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GMO Ocean Mineral Harvest

Green GMO Gold
  [vote for,

The old "extract minerals from seawater" idea appears in the category, so rather than annotate I have baked it futher, added sprinkles and made it my own. Here is how this idea could be done. Monoclonal antibodies can recognize very specific molecules - usually these are proteins but antibodies have been devised which recognize metallic mercury, and it is reasonable to propose that if an antibody can recongize one metal ion, slight tweaks in the antibody protein structure could enable the production of other, metal specific, antibodies. Gold is nice but seawater contains other rarer minerals - like thorium etc. Using recombinatorial in vitro evolution, create ion specific antibodies.

Now engineer algae to express this antibody at high levels in their tissues. I envision these algae to be the type which grow fixed to a substrate. Place your substrate in an area of the ocean which contains relatively high concentrations of the desired mineral. Periodically, harvest the algae. They can be mowed and then regrow from the base.

Now you have a bunch of organic matter enriched for the mineral of interest. It should be even simpler to remove the mineral from this slurry than it is to extract it from rocks.

bungston, Oct 24 2002

Mercury antibody http://www.ncbi.nlm...62940&dopt=Abstract
Link for abstract showing marketed application for mercury ion antibody [bungston]

Fritz Haber http://www.pbs.org/...entries/do53ri.html
Fully baked attempt by Germany in 1925 to extract gold from seawater. [bungston, Oct 24 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Fritz Haber http://www.pbs.org/...entries/do53ri.html
Fully baked attempt by Germany in 1925 to extract gold from seawater. [bungston, Oct 24 2002, last modified Oct 05 2004]

History of Genetic Engineering http://www.american..._india/history.html
"1980: The U.S. Supreme Court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty rules that genetically altered life forms can be patented. The decision allows the Exxon Oil Company to patent an oil-eating microorganism." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Environmental Microbiology article - Geobiologists: As Diverse as the Bugs They Study (.PDF) http://murex.micro....2-01-22-nytimes.pdf
"...two researchers independently announced the discovery of microbes that live off metals." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Detroit News article - Spain may hold clues to life on Mars http://www.detnews....9/15/a13-586016.htm
"The Rio Tinto is special because it provides an exceptionally good environment for bacteria that live by turning fool's gold into sulfuric acid and dissolved iron..." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Mineral making microbes take charge (article synopsis) http://commtechlab..../news/ns293sn1.html
"Researchers are discovering that a wide variety of bacteria create nodules of minerals as a byproduct of metabolic processes and exert control over the level of various chemicals in marine environments." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Unusual bacterium thrives on arsenic (article synopsis) http://commtechlab....news/ns395dis3.html
"Newly discovered bacteria, dubbed MIT-13, use arsenic in their energy generation process in much the same way that humans use oxygen to release energy from food." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Microbe glows while feeding on pollutants (article synopsis) http://commtechlab..../news/ns795sa1.html
"A newly designed bacterium, genetically engineered to glow as it consumes toxic chemicals, will soon be released to feed on pollutants at Oak Ridge National Laboratory." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

New Iron-Eating Microbe Major Component of Mining Pollution and Iron and Sulfur Cycling http://www.whoi.edu...nEatingMicrobe.html
[phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Bacteria Point The Way To Gold Deposits http://www.scienced...05/020523075914.htm
"A pilot survey of 11 soil profiles across gold mining regions in the Peoples Republic of China indicates that elevated spore counts of Bacillus cereus, a common soil bacterium, were detected in areas adjacent to underlying gold deposits." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Group of Microbes Change Dissolved Gold to Solid http://news.nationa...8/0830_goldbug.html
"A microbiologist has found that microscopic organisms known as extremophiles breathe in dissolved gold and out comes the stuff of gold rings, necklaces, and earrings. The finding may explain how some gold ore deposits formed." [phoenix, Oct 25 2002, last modified Oct 06 2004]


       I sure hope that my yacht's hull, props, shafts, anchors, fittings, etc. don't contain any of whatever you're harvesting. Same goes for a lot of other ships, subs, oil platforms, docks, trans-ocean cables...   

       It could really get exciting if the algae started eating the sacrificial metals from the cathodic anti-corrosion.
lurch, Oct 24 2002

       The bulk metals used for structural/industrial applications in the water are too cheap to make this approach for obtaining them worthwhile. These antibodies need to be highly specific for gadolinium or similar metals. If there is any overlap and the antibody can also bind, say, aluminum, you will certainly reclaim nothing but aluminum from your algae.
bungston, Oct 24 2002

       The ones that could be a problem are those used in small quantities in special purpose alloys.
lurch, Oct 24 2002

       Better yet, let 'em loose in a garbage dump.
phoenix, Oct 24 2002

       Is this 'genetic engineering magic', and therefore a canidate for an mfd?
BinaryCookies, Oct 24 2002

       // slight tweaks in the antibody protein structure // // engineer algae to ... /   

       I'm certainly no expert. In fact, I don't understand this very well at. But I'm pretty dubious. Any marine microbiologists out there?
snarfyguy, Oct 25 2002

       Can we get them to harvest unobtanium?
BunsenHoneydew, Oct 25 2002

       BinaryCookies, you wound me deeply. I do not knopw what an MFD is but I understand the "employ technology you dont understand and have magical result" provision in the HB rules. Here is why this is not a magic hypothesis.   

       1. Recombinant antibody generation. I don't think anyone would call this magic. Several popular new drugs (rituxamab, inflixamab) are recombinant antibodies.   

       2. Metal specific antibodies. Some would say this might be magic - you cant just have an antibody to whatever you want. This is why I provided the mercury link - it can be done. Also, perhaps tips to target antibodies to metals can be gained by studying the proteins these extremophiles use to handle their metals.   

       3. Engineered algae. If you can do bacteria you should be able to do algae. Folks are GMOing just about everything.
bungston, Oct 28 2002

       Bacteria are much easier to engineer than algae, because bacteria are prokaryotes; having no nucleus, the genetic material just floats freely inside them. This makes it easy to engineer, especially considering their tendency to absorb randomly floating bits of DNA in their general enviroment. Algae, like all plants, however, are eukaryotes, having a nucleus. This makes things difficult. there are some bactera with photosynthetic properties, though, mebbe use 'em instead?
Corona688, Dec 20 2002

       I should have specified - blue green algae. They are prokaryotes too.   

       I am crushed that the other idea in this category seems more popular than mine.
bungston, Jan 10 2003


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