Human Journey

Scientists Discover How Bacteria Changes Ions Into Gold

 

Bacteria with the ability to change ions into solid gold?  This scenario may sound like a biochemist’s version of a fairy tale, but it’s real and scientists at McMaster University have just described how the process works in a recent article published online in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.  

The bacteria is called Delftia acidovorans, and it turns out that its King Midas-like conversion is part of a self-defense mechanism. Gold ions dissolved in water are toxic, so when the bacteria senses them it releases a protein called delftibactin A.  The protein acts as a shield for the bacteria and changes the poisonous ions into harmless particles that accumulate outside the cells.

Although the amount of gold that Delftia acidovorans release is tiny (the particles are 25-50 nanometers across) it’s possible that the bacteria or the protein could someday be used to dissolve gold from water or to help people identify streams and rivers carrying the mineral.

For all the latest science news, check out our twice-weekly news rundown, Earth Current.

Alyson Foster works in the National Geographic Library where she purchases books for the Library’s collection and assists NG staff with finding research materials.
  • Dave

    I think you mean precipitate or separate gold from water – not dissolve. The gold is already dissolved in the water.

  • Dave

    I think you mean precipitate or separate gold from water – not dissolve. The gold is already dissolved in the water.

  • Jonny

    Yay! now scientists don’t have to apply for funding anymore!!

  • Jonny

    Yay! now scientists don’t have to apply for funding anymore!!

  • Lin Geary

    Just wondering if your headline might have been more accurate if it conveyed the idea that the bacteria “turned gold into gold”. What McMaster has come ups with isn’t alchemy; it’s just really good science, which McMaster does brilliantly. The news media often does alchemy, turning dross into maybe gold. Please remember who is doing the alchemy.

  • Lin Geary

    Just wondering if your headline might have been more accurate if it conveyed the idea that the bacteria “turned gold into gold”. What McMaster has come ups with isn’t alchemy; it’s just really good science, which McMaster does brilliantly. The news media often does alchemy, turning dross into maybe gold. Please remember who is doing the alchemy.

  • Emmanuel

    Interesting..

  • Emmanuel

    Interesting..

  • colzz

    Could they be used to build circuits?

  • colzz

    Could they be used to build circuits?

  • Donny B.

    Bacteria changes ions into gold.
    More accurately, bacteria precipitates gold-dissolved-in-water into solidified gold.
    Would be a useful addition at gold mines to have a filter to run process water through prior to disposal. But alchemy is still not possible, sorry.

  • Donny B.

    Bacteria changes ions into gold.
    More accurately, bacteria precipitates gold-dissolved-in-water into solidified gold.
    Would be a useful addition at gold mines to have a filter to run process water through prior to disposal. But alchemy is still not possible, sorry.

  • GREGORY MCNEIL

    Misleading title.

  • GREGORY MCNEIL

    Misleading title.

  • Greggore

    I think this is pretty neat. It shows how bio-tools can help developconvert elements. I wonder how long it will be before they can make enough gold to cover our wacky economy to bring us back to the gold standard?

  • Greggore

    I think this is pretty neat. It shows how bio-tools can help developconvert elements. I wonder how long it will be before they can make enough gold to cover our wacky economy to bring us back to the gold standard?

  • Cam

    The title was a little deceiving, but lets face it, most people wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t. This would be super useful if we could place it on a litmus style paper to test for gold in streams.

  • Cam

    The title was a little deceiving, but lets face it, most people wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t. This would be super useful if we could place it on a litmus style paper to test for gold in streams.

  • Bryan

    Do you know how difficult it is to dissolve gold in the first place? 3:1 concentrated HCl/HNO3 is how we do it. These bacteria more likely developed the process to defend against common metal poisoning. Ionic gold would not be found in high enough concentrations in nature to make this an effective geologist tool. Pretty typical hype from the “Nature” line of journals.

    The image is clearly placer gold and has nothing to do with the article.

  • Bryan

    Do you know how difficult it is to dissolve gold in the first place? 3:1 concentrated HCl/HNO3 is how we do it. These bacteria more likely developed the process to defend against common metal poisoning. Ionic gold would not be found in high enough concentrations in nature to make this an effective geologist tool. Pretty typical hype from the “Nature” line of journals.

    The image is clearly placer gold and has nothing to do with the article.

  • Drew

    There is an awful lot of gold in our oceans. This opens the door.

  • Drew

    There is an awful lot of gold in our oceans. This opens the door.

  • Vladimir Naumov

    This is normal. It has long been known in science and is widely used in gold mining. Mainly bacteria to decompose ispozuyut gold sulfides. Also often in natural objects bacteria involved in the formation of gold deposits. We have established the concentration and the surface of gold particles, consisting of bacteria, diatom algae, fungi and
    and other microorganisms.

  • Vladimir Naumov

    This is normal. It has long been known in science and is widely used in gold mining. Mainly bacteria to decompose ispozuyut gold sulfides. Also often in natural objects bacteria involved in the formation of gold deposits. We have established the concentration and the surface of gold particles, consisting of bacteria, diatom algae, fungi and
    and other microorganisms.

  • Mask of Sheldon

    If you eat that bacteria, will you be pooping Au?

  • Mask of Sheldon

    If you eat that bacteria, will you be pooping Au?

  • Gordon

    If Stephen Hawking is correct in saying that aliens would come to earth for our resources, such as gold, being as rare in the universe as it is on earth, then we need not be concerned about enslavement. We can simply hand over the gold harvesting bacteria and we will all be spared. Humans don’t have to be the gold harvesters anymore. True there will still be bio-enrichment/harvesting of metals and isotopes, but humans won’t need to be involved directly.

  • Gordon

    If Stephen Hawking is correct in saying that aliens would come to earth for our resources, such as gold, being as rare in the universe as it is on earth, then we need not be concerned about enslavement. We can simply hand over the gold harvesting bacteria and we will all be spared. Humans don’t have to be the gold harvesters anymore. True there will still be bio-enrichment/harvesting of metals and isotopes, but humans won’t need to be involved directly.

  • Chris

    “…dissolve gold from water…” ?????
    What the heck would that mean? National Geographic is turning into the Sun? or FOX news?

  • Chris

    “…dissolve gold from water…” ?????
    What the heck would that mean? National Geographic is turning into the Sun? or FOX news?

  • Ryan

    Wow, you know times are tough when National Geographic uses tabloid-style misleading titles to get article views.

  • Ryan

    Wow, you know times are tough when National Geographic uses tabloid-style misleading titles to get article views.

  • Ali

    The Economy ate the Editors!. (idea for NewsWatch title)

  • ted hitsman

    There’s a disease going around “badheadlinitis”. Anyone writing headlines as bad as these should be quarantined for about, say 40 years.

  • ted hitsman

    There’s a disease going around “badheadlinitis”. Anyone writing headlines as bad as these should be quarantined for about, say 40 years.

  • scott

    They can spend all this energy to find out how to make gold and we cant after all these years ( cure CANCER ) WOW ,WAY TO GO ,GOOD ON YA !

  • scott

    They can spend all this energy to find out how to make gold and we cant after all these years ( cure CANCER ) WOW ,WAY TO GO ,GOOD ON YA !

  • ASARULUDO BANMASKIM

    MAYBE now FEDERAL RESERVE CAN PAY GERMANY BACK 1500 TONS of Germany gold , that been stored in new-york for 60 years , THAT IS NO LONGER THERE , it been used for derivative SCAM

  • ASARULUDO BANMASKIM

    MAYBE now FEDERAL RESERVE CAN PAY GERMANY BACK 1500 TONS of Germany gold , that been stored in new-york for 60 years , THAT IS NO LONGER THERE , it been used for derivative SCAM

  • Tim

    Get ready for a crash in gold prices!! yay! Marc Faber didn’t see THIS one coming!

  • Tim

    Get ready for a crash in gold prices!! yay! Marc Faber didn’t see THIS one coming!

  • terri

    I have to wonder how scientist can manipulate the environment to come up with more gold ions. Until they can do that it would be difficult to create gold purposely. Just a thought.

  • terri

    I have to wonder how scientist can manipulate the environment to come up with more gold ions. Until they can do that it would be difficult to create gold purposely. Just a thought.

  • Axel

    But please… It’s one bacterium, many bacteria. How can I trust the science if there isn’t even simple grammar?

  • Axel

    But please… It’s one bacterium, many bacteria. How can I trust the science if there isn’t even simple grammar?

  • NateGreene

    What a profitable way to clean up poluted water in gold mines long closed. Imagine being able to reclaim these poluted mines with only bacteria. Interesting…..

  • NateGreene

    What a profitable way to clean up poluted water in gold mines long closed. Imagine being able to reclaim these poluted mines with only bacteria. Interesting…..

  • Tom Easly

    For too long these egghead scientists have sucked our nation dry with their free money handouts from our tax dollars. They steal money from our families so that we have no milk and our wives breasts run dry and cannot feed our babies. Now at last these scientists can milk these germs and get their gold and pay for their own crazy experiments to invent zombies and human pinball machines. I applaud these germ breeding scuentists and am glad they have finally come up with a way to make money without sucking on the teats of the American workers and mothers.

  • Tom Easly

    For too long these egghead scientists have sucked our nation dry with their free money handouts from our tax dollars. They steal money from our families so that we have no milk and our wives breasts run dry and cannot feed our babies. Now at last these scientists can milk these germs and get their gold and pay for their own crazy experiments to invent zombies and human pinball machines. I applaud these germ breeding scuentists and am glad they have finally come up with a way to make money without sucking on the teats of the American workers and mothers.

  • Reza

    Wow title is kind of misleading…

  • Reza

    Wow title is kind of misleading…

  • Bhushit Joshipura

    If such bacteria genetically engineered to sense other ions and “crossbred” with the direction sensing bacteria, we can reduce cost of mining materials. Here is how.
    Say we design bacteria to sense iron or Thorium and genetically program them to throw the neutralized atoms in magnetic South.
    The bacteria will march forward in the mineral belt and keep depositing pure metal on the south end of the belt.
    We no longer need to mine. We can just dig an eco-friendly trench and take all the pure metal!

  • Bhushit Joshipura

    If such bacteria genetically engineered to sense other ions and “crossbred” with the direction sensing bacteria, we can reduce cost of mining materials. Here is how.
    Say we design bacteria to sense iron or Thorium and genetically program them to throw the neutralized atoms in magnetic South.
    The bacteria will march forward in the mineral belt and keep depositing pure metal on the south end of the belt.
    We no longer need to mine. We can just dig an eco-friendly trench and take all the pure metal!

  • Sue Dohnem

    I have this bacteria in my gut. I poop gold. Kind of like the Midas Touch in reverse.

  • Sue Dohnem

    I have this bacteria in my gut. I poop gold. Kind of like the Midas Touch in reverse.

  • kathiroly

    I can make gold from onions and with some magical spells.

  • kathiroly

    I can make gold from onions and with some magical spells.

  • Ross

    picture is deliberatly misleading. That is placer gold. Gold from this new source is so small they don’t even have a picture of it.

    typical BS to discredit gold value and discourage buyers

  • Ross

    picture is deliberatly misleading. That is placer gold. Gold from this new source is so small they don’t even have a picture of it.

    typical BS to discredit gold value and discourage buyers

  • Rick Crammond

    Why has this bogus article, with misleading title and misleading picture, and poor grammar besides, been up for several days…which is longer than any other news ??

  • Rick Crammond

    Why has this bogus article, with misleading title and misleading picture, and poor grammar besides, been up for several days…which is longer than any other news ??

  • MJStephens

    This is what happens when you ask a scientific illiterate to write an article on a scientific finding. Very scary.

    I’m sure the actual McMaster scientists aren’t thrilled that their research is being so badly mangled. This is just another example of science not being effectively communicated to the public.

  • MJStephens

    This is what happens when you ask a scientific illiterate to write an article on a scientific finding. Very scary.

    I’m sure the actual McMaster scientists aren’t thrilled that their research is being so badly mangled. This is just another example of science not being effectively communicated to the public.

  • Ryan Stoughton

    This story is an embarrassment. The worst of sensationalisy science journalism.

  • Ryan Stoughton

    This story is an embarrassment. The worst of sensationalisy science journalism.

  • poll

    I think its good to find this out but it also works reverse gem and gold selling businesses lose money but its good for public more accessories and less store robberies

  • poll

    I think its good to find this out but it also works reverse gem and gold selling businesses lose money but its good for public more accessories and less store robberies

  • poll

    looks like dump

  • poll

    looks like dump

  • dan unger

    I have studied microscopy as relating to placer Au. The bacteria are in fact a trigger mechanism/catalyst. Looking for the enzymes responsible ?

  • dan unger

    I have studied microscopy as relating to placer Au. The bacteria are in fact a trigger mechanism/catalyst. Looking for the enzymes responsible ?

  • Keith Hedman

    This is an awesome technology. Since these bacteria have an acid metabolism, it makes since that they would metabolically isolate Gold Chloride and excrete it.
    Wow

  • Keith Hedman

    This is an awesome technology. Since these bacteria have an acid metabolism, it makes since that they would metabolically isolate Gold Chloride and excrete it.
    Wow

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media