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Viruses Can Now Alter Gold’s Molecular Structure

Kitco News

(Kitco News)- Viruses can have an impact beyond making you sick; it can now transform gold.

A bacteriophage virus has been altered by researchers to re-arrange the molecular structure of gold atoms into spheroids, which could potentially make the manufacturing of gold-plated electrical components cheaper and more efficient.

In a paper by science journal Nanoscale, engineers documented their discovery of genetically modifying the M13 bacteriophage, which is a virus that infects bacteria similar to E. coli, into a spheroid, and then combining the spheroid with a gold ion solution to create gold nanobeads.

The paper comes at a time when gold’s demand in the technology sector has seen a steady increase. While the global gold market demand as a whole has declined 4% in second quarter 2018, tech-sector demand for gold rose 2% to 83.3 tonnes in the same period, according to the World Gold Council.

Gold’s technology demand accounted for more than 380 tonnes annually over the last decade, with applications in smartphones, semi-conductors, and green energy. Some analysts have noted that the electrification of vehicles will be a major driver of gold demand in the future.

Viruses in nature have been known to exist in a variety of shapes and can bind to molecules. Binding viruses to ions of metals can cause these ions to take on the form of the virus, creating an object of the same size and shape.

This procedure is not entirely new and has been used in the past for industrial applications in the semiconductor, energy, and biomedical sectors, but this is the first time that engineers have used the M13 virus as a nanomaterial template to create gold nanobeads. In the past, genetically modified M13 bacteriophages have been used to form long, golden nanowires.

"The novelty of our work lies in the optimization and demonstration of a viral template, which overcomes the geometric constraints associated with most other viruses," said Elaine Haberer, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in UCR's Marlin and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering and senior author of the paper.

The M13 bacteriophage has been known to be more flexible in altering its basic form than other viruses.

Although the applications for this breakthrough could be used in manufacturing electronics, researchers of this paper are using the gold nanobeads to remove pollutants from wastewater and see a variety of other potential usages on the horizon.

"Nature has been assembling complex, highly organized nanostructures for millennia with precision and specificity far superior to the most advanced technological approaches. By understanding and harnessing these capabilities, this extraordinary nanoscale precision can be used to tailor and build highly advanced materials with previously unattainable performance,” Haberer said.

The researchers believe the M13 bacteriophage template transformation scheme developed in this breakthrough can be extended to other similar viruses.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.

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