Lanthanides and actinides are elements of ever-increasing technological importance in the modern world. However, the similar chemical and physical properties within these groups make purification of individual elements a challenge. Current industrial standards for the extraction, separation, and purification of these metals from natural sources, recycled materials, and industrial waste are inefficient, relying upon harsh conditions, repetitive steps, and ligands with only modest selectivity. Biological, biomolecular, and bio-inspired strategies towards improving these separations and making them more environmentally sustainable have been researched for many years; however, these methods often have insufficient selectivity for practical application. Recent developments in the understanding of how lanthanides are selectively acquired and used by certain bacteria offer the opportunity for a newer, more efficient take on these designs, as well as the possibility for fundamentally new designs and strategies. Herein, we review current cell-based and biomolecular (primarily small-molecule and protein-based) methods for detection, extraction, and separations of f-block elements. We discuss how the increasing knowledge regarding the selective recognition, uptake, trafficking, and storage of these elements in biological systems has informed and will continue to promote development of novel approaches to achieve these ends.
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