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The challenge

Finding the new gold deposits

Gold is an important export commodity for Australia. While gold production hit record peaks in 2020, forecasted estimates show that production will decline in the near future unless new gold deposits are found.

New, low-impact exploration tools are needed to make the next generation of discoveries to ensure ongoing production into the future.

Our response

Linking gold-coated fungi with a deposit below the surface

[Animation images appear of different types of gold including a sarcophagus, a sphynx, a stack of coins, a gold bar, a champagne flute, jewellery, a calculator, a Smartphone and a laptop]

Narrator: Gold has fascinated the world since ancient times, treasured primarily as a trusted source of wealth, for use in jewellery, to many modern electronics.

[Animation image changes to show gold dots rotating on the screen and then the gold dots gradually morph into a globe of the world with gold dots showing on the various countries]

Today, we’re still learning about our favourite yellow metal, such as how a gold deposit is formed and how it travels around the earth, so that we can come up with much-needed and clever new strategies to find and produce it.

[Camera zooms out a little on the world globe and a magnifying glass appears moving around the rotating world globe]

Geologists from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, are revealing some of gold’s secrets and coming up with innovative ways to search for gold faster, in a more cost-effective way and in ways that reduce impacts to the environment.

[Animation image changes to show a tree in a landscape]

For example, researchers have been looking for nature’s clues at the surface that could be used as evidence to find gold metres below.

[Animation image shows streaks of gold moving up the tree trunk and then a magnifying glass symbol appears over the foliage of the tree showing small gold dots inside the leaves]

CSIRO discovered that trees in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia can draw up gold from the earth and deposit it in their leaves

[Animation image moves to the left and streaks of gold appear moving up a termite mound in a group of termite mounds in the landscape on the right]

and that termites can harbour gold in their mounds.

[Animation image continues to move to the left and streaks of gold moving up a pink fungi in a group of fungi appear on the right]

Now in the latest breakthrough, scientists have discovered gold-coated fungi.

[Camera zooms in on the fungi to show gold dots over the surface]

This thread-like fungi lives in soils and zooming in on this organism reveals balls of gold attached to its strands. The gold gets there through an oxidisation process. A surprising discovery given gold is so chemically inactive. The fungi dissolves and precipitates particles of gold from their surroundings and then attaches it to their strands.

[Camera zooms out to show the gold streaks moving up the pink fungi in a group of fungi and then the image shows the pink fungi growing taller than the other fungi and then more pink fungi popping up]

And interestingly, there appears to be a biological advantage in doing so as the gold-coated fungi have been found to grow larger and spread faster than those that don’t interact with gold.

[Camera gradually zooms out and more coloured fungi appear growing around the pink fungi]

They also play a central role in a biodiverse soil community, meaning the gold-coated fungi play host to a more diverse range of other fungi when compared to those that don’t.

[Animation image changes to show a rotating world globe showing gold dots over the various continents]

This is the first evidence that fungi may play a role in the cycling of gold around the earth’s surface.

[Animation image changes to show layers of soil containing gold dots beneath a blue fungi which is drawing streaks of gold up into the stem from the layers of soil]

Research continues to understand whether or not the gold-coated fungi could be linked to a gold deposit below the surface.

[Image changes to show the CSIRO logo on a dark blue screen]

At CSIRO, we’re solving the greatest challenges through science and innovation. Our mineral exploration research, is leading to new tools for more sustainable exploration and production of gold for future generations.

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We discovered gold-coated fungi near Boddington in Western Australia; a known area of gold mineralisation.

Called Fusarium oxysporum, this pink-flowering, thread-like fungi known is commonly found in soils around the globe.

Our scientists found that the fungi can attach gold to their strands through an oxidisation process, dissolving and precipitating particles from their surroundings.

This may mean that fungi – and their functional genes – could be added to a growing list of biological clues at the surface that can be used to find gold underground.

Another intriguing aspect to the discovery was that gold, a biologically inert element, appears to offer a biological advantage to the fungi. Our researchers observed that gold-coated fungi grew larger and spread faster than those that don’t interact with the gold.

The results

Adding fungi to the explorers tool-kit

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.

The discovery of gold-coated fungi suggests that sampling soil fungi for precious minerals may provide another data source for identifying new areas of mineralisation for further exploration.

The discovery was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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