Australian scientists from the University of Adelaide have discovered a new role played by certain bacteria in cycling platinum group metals in soils and sediments, which could potentially be applied in the search of rich deposits of such metals.
Platinum group metals—comprising platinum and elements like palladium— have extensive industrial applications due to their corrosion-resistant, nontoxic, and catalytic properties, but are extremely rare in natural environments.
But thanks to the research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists and miners alike have now an improved bio geochemical understanding of the metals formation, which the authors hope will lead to new and better ways of exploring for them.
“Traditionally it was thought that these platinum group metals only formed under high pressure and temperature systems deep underground, and that when they were brought to the surface through weathering and uplift, they just sat there and nothing further happened to them,” project leader Dr. Frank Reith, said in a statement.
Reith, who is Senior Lecturer in the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and Visiting Researcher at CSIRO Land and Water, says his research has shown that statement is simply not accurate.
“We’ve linked specialized bacterial communities, found in biofilms on the grains of platinum group minerals at three separate locations around the world,” Reith noted. “And we’ve shown, that at the Brazil site at least, the entire process of formation of platinum and palladium was mediated by microbes.”
The team work builds on more than 10 years of research in gold, which has uncovered the role of micro-organisms in driving Earth’s gold cycle.