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Superman-strength bacteria produce gold

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At a time when the value of gold has reached an all-time high, Michigan State University researchers have discovered a bacterium’s ability to withstand incredible amounts of toxicity is key to creating 24-karat 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.

He 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 – or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature.

In fact, 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 a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold in front of an audience.

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