Updates to this story
Scientists have developed a way to produce microbe-filled capsules that can recover rare metal indium, used in the creation of touchscreens.
Health products maker Morishita Jintan Co have worked with Osaka Prefecture University to develop the technology which consists of microbes surrounded by a semipermeable synthetic membrane, writes Nikkei.
When placed in a solution containing indium the capsules are able to let metal ions pass through the membrane, before being taken up by the microbes.
Indium is a material that is used to create indium tin oxide, crucial to the production of touchscreens and LCDs. It is widely thought that there is a shortage of the material, with a US Geological Survey putting indium reserves at 16,000 with speculation that with current consumption reserves will be exhausted by 2020.
According to Morisha Jintan the capsules facilitate the work of the microbes, making the use of organic solvents unnecessary, making the recovery process far safer.
A patent has been applied for and the firm aim to have commercial applications ready in the next few years, utilising its drug making technology and support from manufacturers that use rare metals.