The next gold rush? Scientists find a bacteria that ‘turns toxic waste into gold’

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario discovered a bacterium that can transform poisonous ions in toxic solutions of gold into tiny particles of gold, reports Nature.

When added to toxic solutions of the precious metal, the bacterium delftia acidovorans secretes a metabolite that protects it from the toxins by transforming the dangerous ions into tiny gold nuggets, which it wears in “dark haloes of gold nanoparticles.”

If you’re wondering what a “dark halo of gold nanoparticles” looks like, remember that “nanoscale” refers to a size measurable in nanometers—a billionth of a meter. So for all regular purposes, D. acidovorans is making zero gold.

Still, Nature writes:

A microbe-assisted gold rush might yet happen, says [Frank Reith, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia]. Delftibactin could be used to produce gold-nanoparticle catalysts for many chemical reactions, or to precipitate 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,” says Reith.

(via io9, Nature)