Scientists discover bacterium that transforms toxic chemicals into solid gold nuggets

Are the days of maps, metal detectors and intense manual labor history?  Delftia acidovorans is a bacterium that lives in adhesive biofilms that produce on top of gold deposits and protects itself by transforming its environment to gold. It can be killed if it is exposed to dissolved gold ions because the ions are toxic, a recent study has revealed.

In order to shield itself, the bacterium has evolved an element that detoxifies gold ions by altering them into safe gold nanoparticles, which accrue securely outside the bacterial cells, according to Nathan Magarvey, study author at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Magarvey hypothesizes that this finding could be utilized to dissolve gold out of water carrying it or even create sensors that would categorize gold-rich streams and rivers. This occurs because when insects perceive gold ions, they conceal a protein called delftibactin A, dubbed by the team of researchers, into the immediate vicinity and turns the ions into particles of gold 25 to 50 nanometres across. The particles collect wherever the bugs grow and create particles of gold.

The nanoparticles do not reflect light similar to large patches of metal and instead are depicted deep purple in color.

Frank Reith, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who was also present during the study, told Nature Chemical Biology that a microbe-aided gold rush could take place in the future, but certainly not soon enough for the goldbugs. He added that delftibactin could be utilized to produce gold-nanoparticle catalysts for various chemical reactions and gold from waste water produced at mines.

“The idea could be to use a bacterium or metabolite to seed these waste-drop piles, leave them standing for years, and see if bigger particles form,” said Reith.

Magarvey has already secured the intellectual property rights for delftibactin, but noted that he is only interested in comprehending its chemical elements. “I wish I could say we’re up here in Canada growing kilos of gold every day.”

The study’s findings can be found online in the Feb. 3 edition of Nature Chemical Biology.

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