Superman-Power Bacteria to Produce 24K Gold

Researchers at the Michigan State University have found a bacterium that has the ability to withstand large amounts of toxicity to create 24-karat gold.

Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, have discovered that the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on enormous quantities of gold chloride (liquid gold), a toxic chemical compound found in nature.

“Microbial alchemy is what we’re doing — transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that’s valuable,” explained Kashefi.

According to the research team, the bacteria is at least 25 times stronger than had been previously reported.

Where Science Meets Art

The researchers also combined their study with an art installation called “The Great Work of the Metal Lover”, which uses a mix of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold.
The sculpture features a portable laboratory, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, which produce gold right in front of an audience.

Additionally, the artwork consists of a series of images made with a scanning electron microscope.
By using gold illumination techniques, Brown applied 24-karat gold leaf to regions of the prints where a bacterial gold deposit had been revealed so that each print has some of the gold produced in the bioreactor.

“This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Brown reported. “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.”

The reproduction process on a larger scale would be quite expensive, 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.

“The Great Work of the Metal Lover” was chosen for exhibition and received an honorable mention at the cyber art competition, Prix Ars Electronica, in Austria, where it’s on display until Oct. 7.

Science Daily
Adam W.Brown

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