Heavy metal mining using microbes

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2002;56:65-91. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.56.012302.161052. Epub 2002 Jan 30.


The use of acidiphilic, chemolithotrophic iron- and sulfur-oxidizing microbes in processes to recover metals from certain types of copper, uranium, and gold-bearing minerals or mineral concentrates is now well established. During these processes insoluble metal sulfides are oxidized to soluble metal sulfates. Mineral decomposition is believed to be mostly due to chemical attack by ferric iron, with the main role of the microorganisms being to reoxidize the resultant ferrous iron back to ferric iron. Currently operating industrial biomining processes have used bacteria that grow optimally from ambient to 50 degrees C, but thermophilic microbes have been isolated that have the potential to enable mineral biooxidation to be carried out at temperatures of 80 degrees C or higher. The development of higher-temperature processes will extend the variety of minerals that can be commercially processed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Ecosystem
  • Industrial Microbiology
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Mining / methods
  • Mining / trends
  • Models, Chemical
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfides / chemistry
  • Sulfides / metabolism*
  • Water Microbiology


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Sulfides