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Alchemic Microbes - Gold Producing Bacteria
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The term Alchemy is conventionally associated with matter transformation (especially base metals into Gold!). And, when microbes start doing the job of transforming base metals into Gold, it won't be fair if we don't call them Alchemic! So, the focus of this article is to bring into picture the exceptional & radical field of Microbial Alchemy.

The worth of Gold is not an alien fact for anyone around the world. Mining the gold from far-flung sites needs a lot of patience, resources and man-power. And, considering the fact that most of the gold resources have depleted or are at the verge of it, the need for detecting the new sites and better purification strategies has been felt quite strongly in recent times.

Recently in 2012, Researchers at Michigan State University demonstrated a powerful finding wherein a bacteria named Cupriavidus metallidurans could survive on toxic gold chloride (and rather metabolizes it), producing tiny nano-particles of Gold upon reduction of Gold Chloride during respiration!
Here's a video link to the exceptional finding's details:

Though, there are numerous other scientific groups working on the same field of Microbial Alchemy, the finding by the scientists at MSU, and the sharing of the research's efficiency with world has triggered the scientific pursuit in this filed to new levels. According to Anirban Roy Choudhury of IMT (Institute of Microbial Technology) Chandigarh, India, marine water is the richest source of alchemist microbes, owing to the fact that it harbors extreme conditions of high pressure, salinity, low temperatures, variety of metallic compounds etc which could favor the habitation of extremophiles. He claims to have isolated a very effective and fast gold synthesizing strain of Marinobacter pelagius along with the efforts of his team in isolating various species of alchemist bacteria from seas. Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans is another species of bacteria brought into spotlight by scientists from University of Western Ontario in London.

Huge Prospects:

The prospects of microbial alchemy are huge. And, one should realize that it's not limited to just Gold. Literature is filled with instances of microbes that thrive on Ferrous sulphates, Copper Sulphates, Zinc Sulphates etc, such microbes can pave the way for metal mining, regardless of the nature of metal targeted. Each species has it's own prospects for a unique metal.
The applications may be as follows:

A. METAL SENSING
Exhaustion of metal/compounds from the currently known sites has been a big concern. These new findings can enable the synthesis of an efficient bio-sensor for detecting the sites of metals like Gold. And, a rapid prospect in this field would be to use these organisms as Bio-indicators of the possible gold/metal rich site.

B. EFFICIENT PURIFICATION

Though, synthesizing quantifiable amounts of gold from the metabolic process of these bacteria might be highly laborious and complex in terms of the requirement of the scale (as currently the findings suggest only nano-particles of gold being synthesized by the bacteria), but the fact that the gold-nanoparticles synthesized by bacteria is even more pure than the 24-carat gold grains, it suggests the ultra-efficiency of the bioprocess involved in synthesizing the gold.
So, finding a way to genetically modify or improve the strain's character to synthesize greater amounts of gold followed by an appropriate scale-up can lead to a radically new way of synthesizing ultra-pure gold (and other metals too.)
Undoubtedly, it's a neo-alchemy! And a beautiful example of merger of two vastly deviant fileds of microbiology and alchemy. The future is indeed bright in this field, and hope, next time we go out to a jeweler for buying a gold ring, he might convince us about it's purity by the name of the bacteria concerned!

Some References (suggested readings):

Johnston, C. W. et al. Nature Chem. Biol. doi:10.1038/nchembio.1179 (2013).

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2012/gold-l...-strength/

http://genomebiology.com/content/pdf/gb-...ws1020.pdf



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