Superman-strength bacteria produce gold
At a time when the value of gold has reached an all-time high, Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium's ability to withstand incredible amounts of toxicity is key to creating 24-karat gold. "Microbial alchemy is what we're doing -- transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that's valuable," said Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.
He and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, found the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride -- or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature.
In fact, the bacteria are at least 25 times stronger than previously reported among scientists, the researchers determined in their art installation, "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 artwork contains a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold in front of an audience.
Brown and Kashefi fed the bacteria unprecedented amounts of gold chloride, mimicking the process they believe happens in nature. In about a week, the bacteria transformed the toxins and produced a gold nugget.
"The Great Work of the Metal Lover" uses a living system as a vehicle for artistic exploration, Brown said.
In addition, the artwork consists of a series of images made with a scanning electron microscope. Using ancient gold illumination techniques, Brown applied 24-karat gold leaf to regions of the prints where a bacterial gold deposit had been identified so that each print contains 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 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 cost prohibitive to reproduce their experiment on a larger scale, he said. But the researchers' success in creating gold raises questions about greed, economy and environmental impact, focusing on the ethics related to science and the engineering of nature.
"The Great Work of the Metal Lover" was selected 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. Prix Ars Electronica is one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital and hybrid media, Brown said.
"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.
Source: Michigan State University
- Bacterium helps formation of goldWed, 7 Oct 2009, 10:16:26 EDT
- Sulphur proves important in the formation of gold minesThu, 6 Jan 2011, 17:02:22 EST
- A 24-karat gold key to unlock the immune systemMon, 26 Mar 2012, 20:33:45 EDT
- Failed HIV drug gets second chance with addition of gold nanoparticlesFri, 23 May 2008, 14:14:43 EDT
- Nonstick and laser-safe gold aids laser trapping of biomoleculesWed, 17 Jun 2009, 11:45:12 EDT
- Microbial Alchemy: Bacteria Turn Toxic Material Into Gold Nuggets - And Artfrom Scientific BloggingTue, 2 Oct 2012, 11:31:22 EDT
- Superman-strength bacteria produce goldfrom PhysorgTue, 2 Oct 2012, 8:30:50 EDT
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
- UC Davis engineers create on-wetting fabric drains sweat
- Not just blowing in the wind: Compressing air for renewable energy storage
- Amazon River exhales virtually all carbon taken up by rain forest
- Slow earthquakes: It's all in the rock mechanics
- 1 in 10 teens using 'study drugs,' but parents aren't paying attention
No popular news yet
No popular news yet
- Stem cell transplant restores memory, learning in mice
- 2 landmark studies report on success of using image-guided brachytherapy to treat cervical cancer
- Researchers discover mushrooms can provide as much vitamin D as supplements
- Cutting back on sleep harms blood vessel function and breathing control
- Study: Low-dose aspirin stymies proliferation of 2 breast cancer lines