Fungi that draws gold from its surroundings has been discovered in Western Australia, stunning scientists who say it could signal new deposits.
Found near Boddington south of Perth, the strain of the fusarium oxysporum fungus attaches gold to its strands by dissolving and precipitating particles from the environment.
There may be a biological advantage in doing so, as the gold-coated fungi were found to grow larger and spread faster than those that don’t interact with the precious metal.
“Fungi are well-known for playing an essential role in the degradation and recycling of organic material, such as leaves and bark, as well as for the cycling of other metals, including aluminium, iron, manganese and calcium,” CSIRO researcher Tsing Bohu said.
“But gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual and surprising – it had to be seen to be believed.”
Dr Bohu is undertaking further analysis and modelling to understand why the fungi is interacting with gold, and whether it’s an indication of a larger deposit below the surface.
Australia is the world’s second largest gold producer, and while volumes broke records last year, output is forecast to fall in the near future unless new deposits are found.
Chief research scientist Ravi Anand said the industry was already using gum leaves and termite mounds, which can store tiny traces of gold, to guide exploration sampling.
“We want to understand if the fungi we studied … can be used in combination with these exploration tools to help industry to target prospective areas,” Dr Anand said.
Commonly found in soils around the world, the species is not something prospectors should look for as the gold particles can only be seen with a microscope.