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"My feeling is that the chance of our surviving into the twenty-first century as working civilization is less than fifty percent but greater than zero."
- Isaac Asimov

Mining Worm (Organic)  
  Genetically altered earthworm created just for mining.  

Mount Lookitthat had valuable ores to mine, and the colonists had lots of little helpers for the job of mining. Just don't let one bite you.

A mining worm is five inches long and a quarter inch in diameter, mutated from an earthworm. Its grinding orifice is rimmed with little diamond teeth. It ingests metal ores for pleasure, but for food it has to be supplied with blocks of synthetic stuff which is different for each breed of worm - and there's a breed for every metal...

What breaks down the ores is a bacterium in the worm's stomach. Then the worm drops metal grains around it's food block, and we sweep them up.

Technovelgy from A Gift From Earth, by Larry Niven.
Published by Del Rey in 1968
Additional resources -

These little guys are reminiscent of the Hortas of Janus VI, who were also industrious mining creatures (from the orignial 1967 Star Trek episode Devil in the Dark, written by Gene Coon).

The idea of a mining worm predates Niven's work; see the mining worm (robot) from Love Among the Robots by Emmett McDowell, published in 1946.

As an aside, there appears to be a precursor to the idea of Mount Lookitthat, the highest mountain plateau in the universe (or at least in Larry Niven's Known Space). Here's a quote from The Rull (1948) by AE van Vogt:

Mount Monolith, discovered at the same time as the planet, two years before, had been named in the first words spoken about it. “Look at that monolith down there!” On a level plain that column stood, and reared up precipitously to a height of eight thousand two hundred feet. The most majestic pillar in the known universe, it easily qualified as one of the hundred natural wonders of the galaxy.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Gift From Earth
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to A Gift From Earth
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

Mining Worm (Organic)-related news articles:
  - Deep Sea Mining Tube Worms
  - Evolved Earthworms To Clean Up Toxic Metals
  - Earthworms Absorb Copper Nanomaterials From Soil

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