A team at Michigan State University has landed on a gold mine -- albeit on the micro scale.
They call it "microbial alchemy." Using the extremophile bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans -- a microbe that can grow in harsh, metallic environments -- Kazem Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, have found that it can produce 24-carat, nearly 99.9 percent, pure gold.
In a statement about the findings from the university, Kashefi said they are literally "transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that’s valuable."
The men gave the bacteria "unprecedented amounts" of gold chloride, which is a toxic chemical compound, and found not only do the microbes thrive on it, but they can produce gold in a relatively quick manner.
In fact, the team created an art installation -- The Great Work of the Metal Lover -- that includes a portable laboratory (made of course from gold-plated hardware) that can make the gold in front of audiences.
“This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Brown said in a statement. “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.”
Unfortunately, the gold-producing bacteria are not going to solve economic crisis or make the men rich. Only producing a gold nugget in a week, bringing operations to a larger-scale production is not cost-effective. The university news release also states that the researchers have questions about the ethics of their findings as it relates to "greed, economy and environmental impact."
This story has been updated since its original posting.