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HAMILTON, Ontario — A bacterium that turns ions into gold nanoparticles could be used as a tool for gold extraction, according to a recent study.
Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, analyzed a bacterium called Delftia acidovarans in a gold solution. They observed dark halos around the bacteria, signifying nanoparticles of gold.
The bacterium was created as a defense mechanism, according to scientists. Gold ions are toxic to D. acidovarans, so the bacteria keep the ions from entering their cell walls by turning them into nanoparticles, according to Scientific American.
The researchers were able to isolate the set of genes responsible for forming the halo of gold, and found that when they engineered bacteria lacking the genes, the halo did not appear. Additionally, when they isolated the chemical produced by the unengineered bacteria, they were able to create gold particles with the solution.
Frank Reith, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, told Nature the chemical that makes the reaction possible, named delftibactin, could be used to draw 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," he said.
The study was published online Sunday in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.