Scientists in Germany have come up with a method for extracting the precious element germanium from plants.
The element is a semi-conductor and was used to develop the first transistor because it is able to transport electrical charges extremely quickly. Nowadays, silicon-germanium alloy is indispensable to modern life, crucial in making computers, smartphones and fiber-optic cables.
Transparent in infra-red light, germanium is also used in intelligent steering systems and parking sensors for vehicles.
Yet although germanium is present in soil all over the world, it is difficult to extract, and most supplies currently come from China. Now scientists at Freiburg University of Mining and Technology think they have found a revolutionary way to obtain it from their own soil - with a little help from the natural world.