The new alchemy

Date:20 February 2013 Tags:, , ,

Alchemists have dreamed for many years of making gold from common metals (writings about the mythical philosopher’s stone date back to biblical times). A pair of Michigan State University professors has figured out how to do it with the help of an extremophile bacteria. Cupriavidus metallidurans excretes 24-carat nuggets of gold after being fed gold chloride, a naturally occuring liquid compound. “We’re transforming something that has no value into a solid precious metal,” says MSU microbiology professor Kazem Kashefi.

To display its microbial alchemy, the team built a portable laboratory/art exhibit (above, in a gallery in Linz, Austria) that includes a custom glass bioreactor. The bacteria, which the researchers discovered were 25 times more resistant to the toxic gold chloride than are other bacteria, metabolised the liquid in just a week.

Commodities traders need not worry: The researchers say the process would not be cost-effective on a large scale. – Alyson Sheppard