We need a lot of gold, and not because it makes sparkly jewelry. Gold is a valuable element in the construction of electronic devices due to its conductive properties, and you might have noticed we have more and more gadgets in our lives.
There’s a finite supply of gold on Earth, of course. So it’s a good thing we’ve discovered a bacteria that pulls gold out of a liquid environment with a lot of it.
It’s essentially a defensive mechanism: An environment rich in gold is not generally conducive to being a happy, thriving tiny organism. So Delftia acidovarans puts out a substance that essentially precipitates the gold out of the environment surrounding it:
Using biochemical and genome analysis, the researchers discovered a set of genes and a chemical metabolite that were responsible for precipitating the gold. Bacteria engineered to lack the genes no longer formed dark haloes, and their growth was stunted in the presence of gold. The team also isolated a chemical produced by the unengineered bacteria that caused gold particles to precipitate out of a solution. The chemical was dubbed delftibactin.
This keeps the gold from poisoning it, and also happens to pull all the gold in a surrounding area into one place. In theory, with enough delftibactin, you could dump it in, say, a tank of mine waste water and come back to find all the gold at the bottom.
That’s a long way away from reality, but it could mean a lot as the world’s gold supply comes under increasing pressure. Also, it’s kind of awesome bacteria did that for us. Thanks for making us rich, suckers. We’re going to keep using soap, though.