Biological role in the transformation of platinum-group mineral grains

F. Reith, C.M. Zammit, S.S. Shar, B. Etschmann, R. Bottrill, G. Southam, C. Ta, Matt Kilburn, T. Oberthür, A.S. Ball, J. Brugger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved. Platinum-group elements are strategically important metals. Finding new deposits is becoming increasingly difficult owing to our limited understanding of the processes that affect their mobility in surface environments. Microorganisms have been shown to promote the mobility of metals around ore deposits. Here we show that microorganisms influence the mobility of platinum-group elements in mineral grains collected from Brazil, Australia and Colombia. Scanning electron microscopy showed biofilms covering the platinum-group mineral grains. The biofilms contained abundant platinum-group element nanoparticles and microcrystalline aggregates, and were dominated by Proteobacteria, many of which were closely related to known metal-resistant species. Some platinum-group mineral grains contained carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, selenium and iodine, suggesting the grains may be biogenic in origin. Molecular analyses show that Brazilian platinum-palladium grains hosted specific bacterial communities, which were different in composition from communities associated with gold grains, or communities in surrounding soils and sediments. Nano-phase metallic platinum accumulated when a metallophillic bacterium was incubated with a percolating platinum-containing medium, suggesting that biofilms can cause the precipitation of mobile platinum complexes. We conclude that biofilms are capable of forming or transforming platinum-group mineral grains, and may play an important role for platinum-group element dispersion and re-concentration in surface environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-298
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number4
Early online date21 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


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