The Loh Down On Science

Gold Fever

Panning for gold?  If only they knew about this in 1949. Here’s the secret!
 
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
 
Meet Delftia acidovorans. It’s a microbe that makes its home on gold nuggets. Odd, because where there is gold there are dissolved gold ions. And these charged particles are extremely poisonous. What gives?
 
Enter Chad Johnston, from McMaster University in Canada. He flooded bacterial samples with water rich in gold ions. Within two hours, a black halo had formed around the bacteria. When he isolated the halo and took a very close look--whoa, nelly! It was solid flakes of gold!

Turns out, the microbe secretes a special compound that converts toxic liquid gold into harmless solid gold. That's how the lil’ bugger lives to see another day. And puts its, uh, two cents into nugget development. Cha-ching!
 
The microbe--or just the compound--could one day be used to extract gold out of bodies of water.
 
That’s quite a “gold rush” to the head! Instead of Sutter’s Mill, think Sutter’s ... Microbe!  

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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