The title says it all.

Do natural or human engineered enzymes exist that can speed up the break down kitchen utensils, aluminum cans, wires, etc. into small particles or powders?

To be clear I am not talking about chemical transformation (e.g. iron turning to rust).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ what do you mean by breakdown of metals ? $\endgroup$
    Jan 23, 2014 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify your question - what do you mean by breakdown? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Jan 23, 2014 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ I've attempted to clarify my question. Sorry for not being clear enough. $\endgroup$
    – max
    Jan 23, 2014 at 15:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ there are no such enzymes.. $\endgroup$
    Jan 24, 2014 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ So you are asking about physical breakdown into particles and not chemical transformation, e.g. iron to rust? $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2014 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


There are bacteria, which can assist the proces of rust.

"Some sulfate-reducing bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide, which can cause sulfide stress cracking. Acidithiobacillus bacteria produce sulfuric acid; Acidothiobacillus thiooxidans frequently damages sewer pipes. Ferrobacillus ferrooxidans directly oxidizes iron to iron oxides and iron hydroxides; the rusticles forming on RMS Titanic wreck are caused by bacterial activity. Other bacteria produce various acids, both organic and mineral, or ammonia." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbial_corrosion)

As you see, many of these active ingredients, like hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid, other acids or ammonia are not enzymes per se, although they are produced by enzymatic processes in bacteria.

Closer to your specification is Ferrobacillus ferrooxidans (synonyms: Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, Ferrobacillus sulfooxidans), which directly acts on iron by enzymes associated with the cell membrane:

Valid XHTML http://c431376.r76.cf2.rackcdn.com/18185/fmicb-03-00096-HTML/image_m/fmicb-03-00096-g001.jpg.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of ferrous iron oxidation by the Gram-negative autotrophic acidophile, At. ferrooxidans. Controlled influx of protons is used to generate ATP via the membrane-bound ATP synthetase complex (ATPase). Iron oxidation is mediated by a cytochrome located on the outer membrane and electrons transferred via periplasmic cytochromes and rusticyanin either to a terminal oxidase (“downhill pathway,” indicated in brown text and by **) where they are used to reduce oxygen, or used to reduce NAD+ (“uphill pathway,” indicated red text and by *) in a reaction also driven by the proton motive force across the inner membrane (Bonnefoy and Holmes, 2011). Source: Johnson et al. 2012.

  • $\begingroup$ I am actually speaking of just breaking a metal object down into finer particles (powder). Thank you though. $\endgroup$
    – max
    Jan 24, 2014 at 15:46

Non-oxidized metals are rarely substrates for enzymes, although they can be used as electron donors in some reactions.

But you are asking about enzymes capable of cleaving metallic bonds without oxidation, and neither can I recall something of this kind, nor can imagine a biological role for such a reaction.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok but is it theoretically possible? Could such an enzyme theoretically be engineered? $\endgroup$
    – max
    Jan 24, 2014 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ No, I don't think it's even theoretically possible, because metallic bonds are very strong. Or, otherwise you need an oxidating enzyme to dissolve the metal (this step is difficult, if you want the metal to be direct substrate of the enzyme) and then a reducing enzyme. Such a system is potentially engineerable. May be, someone has a more realistic opinion. $\endgroup$
    – alephreish
    Jan 25, 2014 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ @max, what do you really need to do with your metallic powder ? Or what was the exact argument which induced you to post this question ? The corrosion, even partial, would make metal easier to break into small pieces. That is the way nature will deal with your kitchen utensils, when they are disposed of as waste. $\endgroup$
    – Barbara
    Jan 27, 2014 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Barbara I am just simply curious as to what is possible and what is not. The only way I have seen metal break down is via oxidization and I find that quite ugly. Metal powders can be used to create new metal objects. I guess I just want to see if a new technique can be developed to break metal down in a new more elegant way. Do you think it is possible to engineer a new set of enzymes that can achieve this? $\endgroup$
    – max
    Jan 27, 2014 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ I do not feel competent to predict what is possible in principle. I certainly never heard of such biotechnology you are looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Barbara
    Jan 28, 2014 at 8:08

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