Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has discovered new thread-like fungi that oxidize tiny particles of gold from their surroundings & attach the gold to their strands. The fungi, Fusarium exosporium, were found to grow larger & spread faster than those that don’t interact with gold. “Gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual & surprising,” researchers said.
The thread-like fungi attach the gold to their strands by dissolving & precipitating particles from their surroundings, in a process that could offer clues for finding new gold deposits.
There may be a biological advantage in doing so too, as the gold-coated fungi were found to grow larger & spread faster than those that don’t interact with gold & play a central role in a biodiverse soil community.
The discovery was made by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, & published in the journal Nature Communications.
“Fungi can oxidize tiny particles of gold & precipitate it on their strands – this cycling process may contribute to how gold & other elements are distributed around the Earth’s surface,” CSIRO lead author Dr. Tsing Bohu said.
“Fungi are well-known for playing an essential role in the degradation & recycling of organic material, such as leaves & bark, as well as for the cycling of other metals, including aluminum, iron, manganese & calcium.
“But gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual & surprising – it had to be seen to be believed.”
Dr. Bohu is undertaking further analysis & modeling to understand why the fungi are interacting with gold, & whether or not, it’s an indication of a larger deposit below the surface.
Australia is the world’s second-largest gold producer, & while gold production hit record peaks in 2018, forecasted estimates show that production will decline in the near-future unless new gold deposits are found.
New, low-impact exploration tools are needed to make the next generation of discoveries. CSIRO is using innovative science & technology to solve the greatest challenges, like ensuring the world has a sustainable supply of resources.
“The industry is actively using innovative exploration sampling techniques, such as gum leaves & termite mounds, which can store tiny traces of gold & can be linked to bigger deposits below the surface,” CSIRO chief research scientist Dr. Ravi Anand said.
“We want to understand if the fungi we studied, known as fusarium oxsporum – & their functional genes – can be used in combination with these exploration tools to help the industry to target prospective areas in a way that’s less impactful & more cost-effective than drilling.”
The researchers also highlight the potential to use fungi as a bioremediation tool to recover gold from waste.
While Fusarium oxsporum is commonly found in soils around the world & produce a pink mycelium or “flower” – it’s not something prospectors should go foraging for, as the particles of gold can only be seen under a microscope.
The discovery was made possible thanks to a collaboration between CSIRO, the University of Western Australia, Murdoch University & Curtin University.
The research involved a multi-disciplinary approach harnessing geology, molecular biology, informatics analysis, & astrobiology.