Microbial Alchemy Artwork

  • Author: ChemistryViews
  • Published: 04 October 2012
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
  • Source / Publisher: Michigan State University
thumbnail image: Microbial Alchemy Artwork

Adam Brown and Kazem Kashefi, Michigan State University, USA, found the metallotolerant extremophilic bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride, a toxin found in nature. It is suggested that many of the earth’s gold deposits are formed not through heat, pressure, and geochemical processes alone, but are formed by microorganisms, as the earth’s lakes and oceans contain vast quantities of dissolved gold in dilute concentrations.


In their artwork “The Great Work of the Metal Lover” Brown and Kashefi force the bacteria in an extreme minimal ecosystem within a bioreactor to metabolize high concentrations of AuCl3 turning soluble gold into usable 24K gold. The process is documented in real time by a USB microscope and a real time video feed.

A second part of the work consists of a series of images made with a scanning electron microscope. Digital prints are made using modern technology. Gold deposits produced by the bacteria are identified within a polysaccharide matrix formed by cell aggregates or biofilms. Then, using ancient gold illumination techniques, 24K gold leaf is selectively applied to regions of the print where a bacterial gold deposit has been identified. Each print contains some of the gold that was produced in the bioreactor.


“The Great Work of the Metal Lover” was selected for exhibition and received an honorable mention at the cyber art competition, Prix Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria, where it’s on display until October 7.


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