Environment Remediation

SynCTI Scientists

Microbe-metal interactions have been well documented in nature and the natural capability of microbes in metal biocatalysis has since been harnessed in industrial biotechnological processes such as the biomining of ores and the treatment of metal-contaminated wastewaters. In the face of a steady depletion of high grade ore reserves and growing concerns on environment degradation, microbial processes offers a economically viable and environmentally sustainable possibility of recovering valuable metals through the recycling of metal-laden leachate or solid waste otherwise deemed worthless.

The insatiable demand for electronics, exacerbated by their short life span, has resulted in the dire accumulation of end-of-life electrical and electronic products, or e-waste. Though mounting e-waste poses a major disposal challenge, it is potentially a secondary source for recovering precious metals such as platinum and gold. In contrast to current metal recycling processes, which are either energy intensive or have adverse environmental and human health impact, bioleaching using microorganisms presents a greener alternative in the recovery of precious metals from e-waste.

Our research aims to amalgamate synthetic biology with metallurgical principles to repurpose bioleaching microbes into practical biological lixiviants (i.e. solvents used in hydrometallurgy that selectively extracts metal from a source). Through genome editing and metabolic engineering, we work towards optimising lixiviant biosynthesis in the synthetic hosts, increasing metal recovery from the lixiviant medium as well as remediating excess lixiviants in the host systems. We envision that our research endeavours will culminate in the creation of novel metabolically-engineered microorganisms that can serve not only the recovery of commodity metals from e-waste on an industrial scale but also be deployed in the bioremediation of toxic metals from waste and landfills.

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