Findings reported in the July 14 issue of the U.S.-based magazine Science suggest a bacteria known as Ralstonia metallidurans may play a key role in forming gold nuggets and grains.
A group of scientists led by German-born researcher Frank Reith collected gold grains from two Australian mines more than 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) apart, and discovered that 80 percent of the grains had the bacteria living on them.
Reith said Ralstonia metallidurans act as microscopic soil scrubbers, soaking up heavy metals in their dissolved form and converting them into less toxic, solid forms.
Many scientists have questioned the possible microbial role in forming gold, maintaining instead that gold grains were either remnants of larger pieces or formed through chemical processes, according to the AP.
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