Fungi play a huge role in the ecosystem, with a new type even being discovered to be capable of drawing gold from its surroundings.
In the future, this type of fungus known as Fusarium oxsporum could even be used to find new gold deposits in a faster, more cost-effective way.
"Fungi can oxidise tiny particles of gold and precipitate it on their strands—this cycling process may contribute to how gold and other elements are distributed around the Earth's surface," CSIRO lead author Dr. Tsing Bohu said in a statement.
A Gold-Coated Fungi For Gold Hunters
Researchers from Australia's national science agency CSIRO discovered the gold-coated fungus in Western Australia, according findings published in the journal Nature Communications.
Commonly found all over the world, the Fusarium oxsporum are thread-like fungi found in the soil. According to CSIRO, the fungi dissolve and precipitate particles of gold from the surroundings, then attach these gold particles to their strands. Gold attaches to the fungi through oxidation, which surprised them due to gold's relative chemical inactivity.
"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," Bohu continued, adding that because of gold's chemical inactivity, the scientists had to see the process to actually believe it.
A Benefit For The Fungi
Gold is precious to humans, but it is actually biologically beneficial to fungi. Gold-coated fungi are found to grow bigger and spread faster than their counterparts that don't interact with gold at all.
Bohu and his team are continuing to study this type of fungi in hopes of understanding why they interact with gold. They are also interested in finding out whether their presence is indicative of a large gold deposit under the ground.
While Australia is the world's second-largest gold producer, projections have shown that production will drop in the near future if no new deposits are discovered. CSIRO is leading the search for new and innovative techniques to find gold deposits, including certain trees, termites, and now, fungi.
"We want to understand if the fungi we studied, known as Fusarium oxsporum—and their functional genes—can be used in combination with these exploration tools to help industry to target prospective areas in a way that's less impactful and more cost-effective than drilling," CSIRO chief research scientist Dr. Ravi Anand explained.
Of course, while the Fusarium oxsporum may be indicative of gold, gold hunters are unlikely to benefit from their gold-collecting abilities since the particles can only be spotted with a microscope.