Gallery: Scientists Use Super-Strong Bacteria to Produce 24K Gold

"The Great Work of the Metal Lover" by Adam Brown on display at the Kresge Art Center on Tuesday July 24, 2012.
"The Great Work of the Metal Lover" by Adam Brown on display at the Kresge Art Center on Tuesday July 24, 2012.

A team of Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium that has the ability to withstand incredible amounts of toxicity to create 24-karat gold. This process, known as microbial alchemy, will help scientists turn a substance of no value into a solid, precious metal.

The team was led by Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. Working along with Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, the team discovered that the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride – or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature.

According to the research team, the bacteria is at least 25 times stronger than previously reported. They also combined their research with an art installation called “The Great Work of the Metal Lover”, which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold. The sculpture contains a portable laboratory, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, which produce gold in front of an audience.

Brown and Kashefi fed the bacteria unprecedented amounts of gold chloride and within a week the bacteria transformed the toxins into a gold nugget. “This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Brown said. “Science tries to explain the phenomenological world. As an artist, I’m trying to create a phenomenon. Art has the ability to push scientific inquiry.”

It would be extremely expensive to duplicate the process on a larger scale, so instead Brown said that the work should be used to “raise questions about greed, economy and environmental impact, focusing on the ethics related to science and the engineering of nature.”

“Art has the ability to probe and question the impact of science in the world, and ‘The Great Work of the Metal Lover’ speaks directly to the scientific preoccupation while trying to shape and bend biology to our will within the postbiological age,” Brown said.

+ Michigan State University

Via Science Daily


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  1. Angel Chiriboga May 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    That’s not Alchemy, is called chemistry. They merely eat the other chemicals and separate the gold from the actual chemicals. Old news.

  2. dfloydr September 11, 2014 at 12:17 am

    So gold is really just bug poop? Don’t tell my wife.

  3. Jofer Magsi September 10, 2014 at 7:08 am

    hence, the collapse of the Gold standard

  4. Kuldeep Gurjar November 26, 2012 at 8:27 am

    can you tell me formula for goldchloride
    how toxity can remove it from

  5. PlanetOrion October 23, 2012 at 1:23 am

    These bacteria could create nuggets in nature in our distant past! They are not affected by concentrated gold chloride!

  6. stephenn October 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I think it’s an art object, folks. Its explanation employs science parody.

  7. kevininmotion October 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Misleading article. It’s not “creating” gold but changing the state of matter. From the MSU article linked above: ‘“The Great Work of the Metal Lover,” which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold.”

  8. sangee October 7, 2012 at 10:02 am

    i think the cost of producing gold with bacteria may exceed the cost of gold…also what neceesity demands them to produce gold ,if so?

  9. wildbill October 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Are these bacteria actually creating the gold, or leaching the gold from solution to form a nugget? Are the gold molecules already present, or are they molecularly engineered by the bacteria? I think this is being understood wrongly in that people will think the bacteria are CREATING gold when it is already present, just in another form.

  10. joal October 5, 2012 at 11:01 am

    This is what the alchemists and sorcerers of old have been trying to do for aeons, to make gold from other substance.

  11. evanherk October 5, 2012 at 1:25 am

    one little problem. Gold chloride is not a worthless compound. It is worth, well, its weight in gold.

  12. mhmdhammoudi October 4, 2012 at 7:28 am

    thank you

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