The new gold rush: discovering gold’s hidden talents.

Gold – is there more to its shimmer? Photo credit: Jochen Zick, via Flickr.

It is simply animal instinct – we love what is lustrous!

As children, we are drawn to sparkles, sequins, and all that shines in the sun light; as adults we are certainly no different.

Aristophanes the Ancient Greek playwright and comic noted, “There is no honest man! not one, that can resist the attraction of gold.”

Since the beginning of civilisation, gold has been not only a treat for our eyes, but also a widely sought-after commodity and used as ancient currencies.  The most common use for gold nowadays is its use in jewellery and ornaments, which I’m sure many of us love to show off.

But, does gold have a use in science?  Is there more to our fascinatingly fulgent friend? (it means sparkly – the alliteration sounded cool!)


A dynamic defender

One would think that gold simply belongs around our necks, or atop a fancy meal, but new research has found a link to gold’s use as a part of treatment for viral infections.

A recent study has shown that gold can be used as a part of tiny molecules called “nanoparticles”, which can act a treatment for a wide range of viruses.

These small molecules consist of a round gold core covered with long chains which mimic those found on the surfaces of cells in the body.

It is using these chains that viruses attach to take over the cell and make more copies of themselves.

What was found is that these nanoparticles are able to bind to viruses and bend them to distort their shape, leaving them unable to bind to cells and further infect them.


The long chains on the gold nanoparticles distort the virus to inactivate it. Photo credit: Taku Ueki, via WikiCommons.

This form of treatment was found to be effective against many common viruses such as, dengue, human papilloma virus (HPV), and herpes simplex virus, with no side effects or toxicity displayed.  So, don’t worry – you won’t be a victim of the Midas touch!

Gold could thus be used easily and effectively to treat multiple viruses using only a very small number of nanoparticles, leading to an inexpensive and accessible treatment.


A dazzling detoxifier

Gold has been found to be of possible use in the detoxification of the common air pollutant carbon monoxide (CO).  Unlike the more commonly known carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide does not occur naturally in the atmosphere.

The “incomplete” combustion of coal, natural gas, and oil is a known environmental source of carbon monoxide, and inhalation can prevent oxygen from being distributed in the body and cause serious injury or even death.


Carbon monoxide poisoning could be a thing of the past. Photo credit: Nick Youngson, via Picpedia.

Gold as a catalyst, which is something added to a chemical reaction to help it progress, has been shown to efficiently convert CO to CO2, a much less toxic gas which can be processed by nature or easily converted to usable materials.

This incorporation of gold into materials can aid in the trapping of CO emitted from heaters and cars, and the conversion into safe products.

Now tell me, which other air freshener can do that!


The verdict:

From on our body to in our body, as a symbol of status and as a catalyst, gold has many discovered and even more undiscovered uses.

So, can it be used to get me a good mark in my coursework, or a winning lottery ticket? Maybe… just maybe.


Further reading:

Nanoparticles and gold:
Gold catalysis:

7 Responses to “The new gold rush: discovering gold’s hidden talents.”

  1. Georgia says:

    This was a really interesting read (and super entertaining). I had no idea that gold was used in the medical field. Do you know if this would be helpful with rapidly mutating viruses like the flu or HIV?

  2. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Thanks Holly! My ultimate goal is to show how interesting chemistry can be to people 🙂 and who can resist the alluring nature of gold?

  3. Just as Jett said, you have made this so interesting! I made a similar comment on one of Jett’s posts, but you have really made something that I think is kinda boring (chemistry, sorry!) into a relevant and interesting post!

    And the formatting is beautiful too, I really appreciate “the verdict” !

  4. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Bit of an homage to you and your work with metals Jett! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  5. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Thanks Iman! Imagine what other things we take for granted can do… :O

  6. Jett Janetzki says:

    Who new gold could do these things? Always really considered Gold to be chemically quite boring. Thanks for writing this Ben!

  7. Iman Taleb says:

    Another amazing use of gold! I have read another blog about the use of gold in targeting cancer cells, ans these facts that you beautifully show here are another evidence that this metal is way more precious than we all think..great read!