Heavy metal bug

Published: Wednesday 30 September 1998

is a bacterium that can supposedly carry a metal load that is equal to its own weight. Amazing, right? The bug, the common cyanobacterium Oscillatoria sp which has been isolated from Wazirabad Yamuna water, can scavenge as much as one gram of copper per gram dry weight at 120 ppm equilibrium concentration, say the scientists. They think that the bacterium might be an excellent candidate for developing copper absorbent as it selectively picks up copper even in cases where there are zinc and cobalt ions present. And since the bug picks up the metal through a simple ion exchange process, all that is needed to bring its load-carrying capacity back to normal is a wash in hard water, the scientists explain. Once dried, the non-growing biomass can easily be stored at 80C. It has all the traits desired in a metal absorbent such as fast uptake at room temperature and good reusability value. The bacterium has already proved its capabilities in the Indian mine industries where it was employed to pick up copper and zinc. Further studies on the bug are being conducted at the department of microbiology in Delhi University's South Campus in Delhi, India.

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