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Synthetic biology approaches to copper remediation: bioleaching, accumulation and recycling

Lookup NU author(s): Andrea Giachino, Francesca Focarelli, Dr Jon Marles-WrightORCiD, Dr Kevin WaldronORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Oxford University Press, 2021.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of FEMS.One of the current aims of synthetic biology is the development of novel microorganisms that can mine economically important elements from the environment or remediate toxic waste compounds. Copper, in particular, is a high-priority target for bioremediation owing to its extensive use in the food, metal and electronic industries and its resulting common presence as an environmental pollutant. Even though microbe-aided copper biomining is a mature technology, its application to waste treatment and remediation of contaminated sites still requires further research and development. Crucially, any engineered copper-remediating chassis must survive in copper-rich environments and adapt to copper toxicity; they also require bespoke adaptations to specifically extract copper and safely accumulate it as a human-recoverable deposit to enable biorecycling. Here, we review current strategies in copper bioremediation, biomining and biorecycling, as well as strategies that extant bacteria use to enhance copper tolerance, accumulation and mineralization in the native environment. By describing the existing toolbox of copper homeostasis proteins from naturally occurring bacteria, we show how these modular systems can be exploited through synthetic biology to enhance the properties of engineered microbes for biotechnological copper recovery applications.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Giachino A, Focarelli F, Marles-Wright J, Waldron KJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: FEMS microbiology ecology

Year: 2021

Volume: 97

Issue: 2

Print publication date: 26/01/2021

Online publication date: 04/12/2020

Acceptance date: 02/12/2020

Date deposited: 29/03/2021

ISSN (print): 0168-6496

ISSN (electronic): 1574-6941

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/femsec/fiaa249

PubMed id: 33501489


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/S006818/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
BB/N005570/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)