nanoFactory: Recycling metal resources - Every particle matters!

Copper, silver and gold - metals are essential for our daily life but resources are dwindling. Industrial mining of metals and electronic waste cause pollution of the environment. Therefore, we established new approaches to recover valuable resources through synthetic biology. By enhancing bacterial abilities to scavenge metal ions from the environment we generated nanoparticles. We optimized Escherichia coli to accumulate metal ions as copper and iron by overexpression of dedicated importers and silencing of exporters while reducing the effects of oxidative stress. To gather nanoparticles from various metal ions we engineered the iron storage protein ferritin. Recycled into nanoparticles the metals could be used for various applications as demonstrated by printing electronics. Considering Dual Use aspects we decided to extract metal ions from pit water instead of dissolving electronics directly. Therefore, in close collaboration with leading experts we developed a customized cross-flow bioreactor for the mining industry.