The researchers 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.
“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 in a statement.
In their art installation, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, researchers used a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-carat gold.
The artwork contained a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold.
The work is on display at the cyber art competition, Prix Ars Electronica, in Austria.
It would be cost prohibitive to reproduce their experiment on a larger scale. But the researchers’ success in creating gold raises questions about greed, economy and environmental impact.