Setting aside the wealth-related implications, it shows how life forms strive to stay alive using every possible niche. Fungi, as well as bacteria, can oxidize “inactive metals”:
Fungi present in soil of the so-called Golden Triangle Gold Prospect zone of Australia can oxidize the metal, researchers reported May 23 in Nature Communications. The reaction dissolves gold, after which the fungi precipitate the metal on their surfaces, a process that may help move the metal from deeper deposits in the Earth’s crust closer to the surface.Kerry Grens, “Fungus Found in Australian Soil Can Oxidize Gold” at The Scientist
The paper is open access.
F. oxysporum seems to do better in the presence of gold and might well indicate gold deposits in sewage and electronics:
“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,” Bohu explains in a CSIRO press release. “But gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual and surprising—it had to be seen to be believed.” Meilan Solly, “Scientists Discover Fungus That Collects Gold From Its Environment” at Smithsonian Magazine
Some fungi are thought to be a billion years old:
Many types of fungi degrade and recycle organic matter, and some are known for their interactions with certain metals, “including aluminium, iron, manganese and calcium,” lead study author Tsing Bohu, a researcher with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said in a statement. Mindy Weisberger, “This Fungus Mines For Gold, Then Wears It” at LiveScience
From the original CSIRO release:
The thread-like fungi attach gold to their strands by dissolving and precipitating particles from their surroundings, in a process that could offer clues for finding new gold deposits…
“Fungi can oxidise tiny particles of gold and precipitate it on their strands – this cycling process may contribute to how gold and other elements are distributed around the Earth’s surface,” CSIRO lead author, Tsing Bohu, said.
“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.
“But gold is so chemically inactive that this interaction is both unusual and surprising – it had to be seen to be believed.”
There may be a biological advantage in doing so too, as the gold-coated fungi were found to grow larger and spread faster than those that don’t interact with gold and play a central role in a biodiverse soil community. “Gold-coated fungi are the new gold diggers” at SciMex
Imagine. Non-reactive gold does all that for fungus. Is there anything is nature that is absolutely useless?
See also: Rob Sheldon: Researchers Showed That The Carbon State Of The Universe IS Fine-Tuned