The Washington Post

A bacteria that poops gold? Yep, that exists, and it’s in an art exhibit. (video)

View Photo Gallery: It won’t retrieve the global economy from the ditch, but there is bacteria that consumes a toxic metal to produce pure gold.

It won’t retrieve the global economy from the ditch, but there is bacteria that consumes a toxic metal to produce pure gold.

Our colleagues over at Slate have produced a video explaining how the super-strong bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans goes about its precious dirty business:

The script reads, in part:

This microbial magician, named Cupriavidus metallidurans, when placed in a minilab full of gold chloride, a nasty toxin, gobbled up the poison and, in about a week, processed it out as 24-karat nuggets of the precious yellow metal.

But before you grab your lab coat and rush out to nab some of the gold -pooping bacteria, stop. It is about as rare as the precious metal itself. And if you’re thinking you can synthesize the reaction in your basement using your gold jewelry, think again. The bacteria is grown on large concentrations of gold chloride — the toxic metal in question — also known as liquid gold.

Michigan State University announced on Oct. 1 that Associate Professor of electronic art and intermedia Adam Brown and his colleague, Assistant Professor of microbiology and molecular genetics Kazem Kashefi had found that the metal-tolerant bacteria could grow in the highly toxic environment. In fact, Kashefi and Brown found that the bacteria is 25 times stronger than had been previously reported. The process, according to Kashefi, is called “microbial alchemy,” and it’s on display in an art installation called “The Great Work of the Metal Lover.”

“This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Brown said via an Oct. 1 news release. “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 installation is a portable laboratory, which consists of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, glass bioreactor and the bacteria. There is also a series of images made with a scanning electron microscope. Brown placed 24-karat gold leaf from the bioreactor over areas of the image where gold deposits had been identified.

The installation is on display at the Prix Ars Electronica in Austria through Oct. 7 where it received an honorable mention.

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