The microbial cell offers a highly efficient template for the formation of nanoparticles with interesting properties including high catalytic, magnetic and light-emitting activities. Thus biomineralization products are not only important in global biogeochemical cycles, but they also have considerable commercial potential, offering new methods for material synthesis that eliminate toxic organic solvents and minimize expensive high-temperature and pressure processing steps. In this review we describe a range of bacterial processes that can be harnessed to make precious metal catalysts from waste streams, ferrite spinels for biomedicine and catalysis, metal phosphates for environmental remediation and biomedical applications, and biogenic selenides for a range of optical devices. Recent molecular-scale studies have shown that the structure and properties of bionanominerals can be fine-tuned by subtle manipulations to the starting materials and to the genetic makeup of the cell. This review is dedicated to the late Terry Beveridge who contributed much to the field of biomineralization, and provided early models to rationalize the mechanisms of biomineral synthesis, including those of geological and commercial potential.