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Super Bacteria Create Gold 180

Posted by Soulskill
from the thar-be-gold-in-them-bacteriums dept.
SchrodingerZ writes "With the price of gold skyrocketing in today's market, Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium that can withstand high toxicity levels that are necessary to create natural gold. '"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.' The bacteria is Cupriavidus metallidurans, which is conditioned to be tolerant to heavy, toxic metals and to be 25 times stronger than most bacteria. When put into gold-chloride (a natural forming toxic liquid), the bacteria reproduces and converts the liquid into a gold nugget. The complete process takes about a week to perform. This experiment is currently on tour as an art exhibit called 'The Great Work of the Metal Lover.'"
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Super Bacteria Create Gold

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:54PM (#41532029)

    This bacteria refines gold compounds.

  • Misleading headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:59PM (#41532063)

    They're not creating the element gold from another element, they're extracting it from a compound.

  • by Tough Love (215404) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:11PM (#41532177)

    Not a lot said about environmental impact. Heap leaching [wikipedia.org] is a famously effective way to poison streams and destroy large tracts of forest.

  • Re:OOGA BOOG (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sardak (773761) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:19PM (#41532253) Journal
    Interestingly, bacteria is the plural form of bacterium, so there's nothing really wrong in the sense you imply. I'm more concerned with the fact that they're apparently not actually creating gold.
  • Not really practical (Score:5, Informative)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:20PM (#41532267)
    Gold chloride [wikipedia.org] isn't exactly of "no value" - it is more expensive than the gold it contains (about $100 per gram of gold content). And bacteria aren't needed; from the wiki article it appears that simply temperature-cycling it betwen >160C and >420C a few times will remove the chlorine and leave pure gold. In short, the purpose of this project is artistic and/or political, possibly biologically interesting, but not necessarily of practical value.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:23PM (#41532301)

    Gold Chloride is not naturally occurring and expensive to make. If you managed to get hold of some gold chloride and decided for some reason you wanted the gold metal out of it, you could mix it with hydrogen peroxide or pretty much any reducing agent and get gold without having to wait a week. Or you could just heat it up on an ordinary stove (but don't breathe in).

    This is performance art, nothing more.

  • by ClickOnThis (137803) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:40PM (#41532421) Journal

    Derp. create [kree-eyt] Show IPA verb, created, creating, adjective verb (used with object) 1. to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes. Does gold chloride naturally precipitate into gold?

    The bacterium does not make the gold. It separates it from the gold chloride molecule.

    The only things in the universe that create gold atoms are supernovae. On earth, nuclear transmutation is possible in principle (via particle accelerators, tokamaks, etc.) but I don't think anyone has set up a process to make gold successfully that way.

  • by Formalin (1945560) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @07:47PM (#41532481)

    You can turn one of the isotopes of mercury to gold in a reactor, but it is not cost effective, and presumably has some issues (I'd imagine if the mercury was not all the pure isotope, you would get other radioactive products...)

    The bacteria doesn't make gold. correct.

  • Re:SHIT GOLD BRICKS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @08:18PM (#41532747) Homepage Journal

    Unicorns fart RAINBOWS!

    Gold bricks are strictly in the dragon department.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @08:38PM (#41532885)

    Gold Chloride is not naturally occurring and expensive to make. If you managed to get hold of some gold chloride and decided for some reason you wanted the gold metal out of it, you could mix it with hydrogen peroxide or pretty much any reducing agent and get gold without having to wait a week. Or you could just heat it up on an ordinary stove (but don't breathe in).

    This is performance art, nothing more.

    You are missing the point. Gold Chloride does form naturally. It is in ocean water at levels between 15-75 ppt. Are you going to boil all of the ocean water to extract the gold? Have you heard of bioremediation?

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:22PM (#41533253)

    gold from lead was done in the 1950s with particle accelerators, and interestingly the reverse is easier, gold to lead in a fission reactor done by a series of neutron captures followed by beta decays to form the pretty dull grey metal from the ugly shiny yellow one.

  • by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @09:25PM (#41533289) Homepage Journal
    or perhaps we just need to fire the current squadron of editors?

    original article Here [sciencedaily.com] (NB from 2009) in which Australian scientists discover the gold-nugget-forming action of this bacteria.
  • Not illuminating (Score:5, Informative)

    by mattr (78516) <mattr&telebody,com> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @10:40PM (#41533829) Homepage Journal

    This is a confusing press release. From what I can gather, this bacterium, which has already been discovered decades ago and its genome fully sequenced, was found 3 years ago to reduce toxic gold compounds into metallic gold. The MSU team fed higher concentration gold solution and this created spherical metallic gold "nuggets" around 30 microns up to 1.2 mm in size. The art exhibition which is pretty distracting from the original scientific research, of which it appears there was some, plays on the themes of alchemy and illuminated manuscripts.

    Unfortunately the explanation of the cool scientific part is completely overshadowed and twisted by the art exhibition! That is really annoying. Art exhibitions made by or in collaboration with scientists are often interesting but this announcement of research and an art exhibition at the same time means that factually incorrect words are helplessly mixed in with fact, making everything cloudy. It may seem romantic but it really is a bad idea to do that. In fact the only place alchemy really happens that we know of is in a nuclear reaction, which this is not.

    ScienceDaily (Oct. 9, 2009) — Australian scientists have found that the bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans catalyses the biomineralisation of gold by transforming toxic gold compounds to their metallic form using active cellular mechanism.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091007103034.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    The bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans strain CH34, originally isolated by us in 1976 from a metal processing factory, is considered a major model organism in this field because it withstands milli-molar range concentrations of over 20 different heavy metal ions. This tolerance is mostly achieved by rapid ion efflux but also by metal-complexation and -reduction.
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi/10.1371/journal.pone.0010433 [plosone.org]

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @11:15PM (#41534105)

    Didn't read the article hey? It's possible Kashefi does actual research with these bacteria, using their tolerance for heavy metals, but this ain't it. This is an example of an art professor who wandered into a research lab (maybe, Kashefi doesn't seem to know much about gold either) and created his next art project by putting bacteria to work doing something absolutely useless.

    From the article:

    "He [Kashefi] and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, found the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride" The senior person on the project is a professor of art.

    "the bacteria are at least 25 times stronger than previously reported among scientists, the researchers determined in their art installation, "The Great Work of the Metal Lover," which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold."

    "The artwork contains...."

    ""The Great Work of the Metal Lover" uses a living system as a vehicle for artistic exploration...."

    "Using ancient gold illumination techniques, Brown applied 24-karat gold leaf to regions of the prints where a bacterial gold deposit had been identified so that each print contains some of the gold produced in the bioreactor."

    ""This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy," Brown said. "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.""

    ""Art has the ability to probe and question the impact of science in the world, and 'The Great Work of the Metal Lover' speaks directly to the scientific preoccupation while trying to shape and bend biology to our will within the postbiological age," Brown said."

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein