Money may still not grow on trees, but scientists from Michigan State University have discovered the next closest thing: bacteria that can transform toxic chemicals into pure, 24-karat gold, according to MSU News.
The bacterium with the Midas touch, Cupriavidus metallidurans, was coaxed into producing real gold nuggets simply by exposing it to copious amounts of gold chloride, a toxic liquid substance with no actual value but which is found naturally in the environment. The bacterium gobbles up the gold chloride, ingesting all of the liquid's toxins and waste, and leaves behind only solid gold. It just goes to show that one bacterium's waste is another organism's treasure.
"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 at Michigan State University.
Kashefi, along with associate professor of electronic art and intermedia Adam Brown, conceived of the method. Rather than get rich, the two professors are instead using their gold-producing bacteria as part of an art exhibit titled, "The Great Work of the Metal Lover." The exhibit makes use of the researchers' odd visionary combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to produce gold in front of an audience. The work received an honorable mention at the Prix Ars Electronica cyber art convention. (There was no evidence of the researchers paying off the judges with gold nuggets.)
"This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy," explained Brown. "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 analogy to alchemy, the ancient practice of transforming base metals into noble metals like gold or silver, is an apt one. Although the practices of ancient alchemists have been widely debunked as pseudoscience and charlatanism, Kashefi and Brown's method could rewrite the history books.
The gold produced using this method is also as pure as it gets: 99.9 percent pure. But is lab-produced gold as valuable as natural gold? Kashefi and Brown have yet to test the market on that, but they suspect the method they use in the lab is similar to how many gold nuggets get produced in nature. After all, both gold chloride and Cupriavidus metallidurans occur naturally. All it takes is for the two of them to naturally run into each other.
Given that the price of gold is currently through the roof, you might already have gotten the idea to begin duplicating this process in your garage. But before you get that twinkle in your eye, keep in mind that Kashefi and Brown have already crunched the numbers, and they attest that the experiment is not cost-effective enough to turn a worthy profit.
And besides, if gold really was so easy to produce, its value would undoubtedly sink.
MNN tease photo of gold nuggets: Shutterstock