Researchers discover interaction of fungi with gold deep inside Earth

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Fusarium oxysporum strain fungi
Plant-pathogenic strain of Fusarium oxysporum that causes fusarium wilt. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

The National Space Agency of Australia has found a gold digging fungus not from gold mines rather from deep inside the surface of the Earth. The fungus attaches gold to its strands undergoing an oxidation process which involves dissolving and precipitating gold particles which are so small that they are impossible to be seen by a naked eye.

Fungi oxidizes the tiny gold particles and precipitates them on its strands by a cycling process which contributes to how gold and other elements are dispensed off within and around the surface of the Earth. The fungi are quite famous for playing a crucial role in the degradation and recycling of organic material , which mainly includes leaves and bark and other metals such as aluminium , manganese and iron.

However, researchers are not yet sure whether the gold coated fungi is an indication of gold deposits under the surface of the Earth . Nonetheless, they believe that mineral does allow for some biological advantage. The fungi with their hankering for gold grow larger and spread faster that the normal ones which do not posses any affinity towards gold.

These fungi are hence, more diverse than others. This is henceforth, the first evidence that fungi play an important role in how gold is cycled around the surface of the Earth and can contribute to less invasive extraction of gold in the near future and can even be used as a bio-remediation tool to recover gold from waste.

There are many other plants and animals thriving on the surface of the Earth , hankering over gold. Eucalyptus trees are known to draw gold particles from as deep as ten metres under the Earth’s surface using their roots and branches. These are 60 million years old and use their leaves to deposit gold on them. There are many species of termites and ants which decorate the mounds with gold, that they carry from under the Earth’s surface. According to a report in Nature Communications , these mechanisms help to create a low impact in mining practices.

The fungi Fusarium oxysporum is harmless and can even form a symbiosis relationship with plants. Some strains of this fungi, however, contribute to the development of the most infectious plant disease worldwide, called Fusarium Wilt. The disease is so destructive that US government had proposed strains to serve as weapons to wipe out coca and other illegal plant growth under the ‘Agent Green” operation.

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