‘Gold-plated’ fungi that mines for gold and then wears it could extract gold from waste


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Just about everyone appreciates gold items. Whether solid gold jewelry or watches or even gold-plated items, gold is one of the hottest commodities on the market today. Gold is expensive – $1,279.25 per ounce at the time of publishing. Could you imagine extracting it from the ground yourself by way of a biological mechanism? Well, scientists have reported that a fungi does and lives on it, too.

Finding out that a certain species of fungi is mining and wearing it is pretty creepy. But that’s exactly what happened. Australian scientists in Boddington, Western Australia, found what they call “gold-coated” fungi, and some are hoping that the fungi’s method of finding the gold can help gold miners find new deposits.

According to the report:

“The thread-like fungi attach gold to their strands by dissolving and precipitating particles from their surroundings…”

“Wearing” the gold apparently has another effect on the fungi. Those species that are coated with gold tended to grow larger than those that don’t. They also “play a central role in a biodiverse soil community.” The fungi in question look pink, and produce a flower-like structure, although the gold found on it can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Although scientists don’t yet know how the fungus in question, Fusarium Oxysporum, is able to identify the gold, they think the mechanism may be related to the process they use to mine the gold. Once they do, the scientists think the fungi use an oxidation process as well as other chemical reactions to turn the gold flakes into a more solid form on its tendrils. This is only speculation, though – for now.

In fact, Tsing Bohu, the lead author of the report from CSIRO, the natural science agency of Australia, believes that it’s the fungi’s process of mining and wearing the gold that may be partly responsible for how certain “other elements are distributed around the Earth’s surface.” If this is the case, the finding may open up a whole new way to mine elements.

Fungi are essential to recycling organic materials. They are also essential to:

“Cycling of other metals, including aluminium [sic], iron, manganese, and calcium. But gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual and surprising – and it had to be seen to be believed.”

Apparently, using such fungal methods isn’t unusual. Australia has the second-largest gold industry worldwide. And, researchers are already testing termite mounds, gum leaves, they theoretically could use the trees, insect nests, and the newly found fungi as a way to detect what they call “secondary gold deposits.”

The scientists are continuing to research how the fungi interact with the gold so they can use it for this reason. Ultimately, these methods of using “surface traces” could boost gold detection while being safer for the environment than the current methods used such as drilling. Interestingly, the report also states that:

“The researchers also highlight the potential to use fungi as a bioremediation tool to recover gold from waste.”

This specific fungus has an interesting history, too. Used in conjunction with Crivellia, the U.S. government developed a bioweapon using the F. oxysporum called Agent Green. They intended to use it to eradicate illegal crops in Columbia, such as the coca plant used to make cocaine. Initially approved, the governments ultimately decided against the plan.

Check out this video for more information on this species of fungi:

 

Featured Image: Screenshot via YouTube Video.


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