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Art’s golden age

Modern day alchemists succeed.

Researchers at the Michigan State University have found a bacterium which can change a toxic substance into pure gold but instead of using the discovery to take over the world they have created an art installation.

The bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans is incredibly tough and apparently likes nothing better than finding a massive concentration of gold chloride, a natural toxic chemical compound, to call home.

It will then turn the liquid gold into a nice ingot – given enough time.

“Microbial alchemy is what we’re doing – transforming gold from something that has no value into a solid, precious metal that’s valuable,” MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics Kazem Kashefi said.

Unfortunately the process is so intensive, it is uneconomical to produce gold to sell but Mr Kashefi and associate professor of electronic art and intermedia Adam Brown joined forces to use the process in an art installation.

The artwork, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, consists of a portable laboratory made of gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria. When combined the gold is produced in front of an audience.

A series of images made with a scanning electron microscope is decorated using gold leaf produced in the bioreactor.

“This is neo-alchemy. Every part, every detail of the project is a cross between modern microbiology and alchemy,” Mr 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.”


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