PerspectiveMicrobiology

Just add lanthanides

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Science  22 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6237, pp. 862-863
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9091

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Summary

Lanthanides are used in items such as hybrid-car and smartphone batteries, magnets, and catalytic converters. Deceptively referred to as rare-earth elements (REEs), they are relatively abundant in Earth's crust but highly insoluble and scarce in pure form, requiring harsh extraction methods for purification. In China, lanthanides have been added to fertilizers and animal feed stocks to promote growth, although the growth of some crops is inhibited by lanthanides (1). Increased exposure to lanthanides has raised concerns that consumption of these elements in food or polluted water may have a negative impact on animals, including humans (2). However, recent studies have discovered that lanthanides are very important to a specialized group of bacteria that play a vital role in global carbon cycling.