Michigan State UniversityGold made by Cupriavidus metallidurans bacteria.

Researchers at Michigan State University, one from the art department and one from microbiology, say they’ve figured out a way to do “microbial alchemy,” using the bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans to turn toxic gold chloride into gold. In environments where you’ve got too much gold chloride — like, say, the researchers’ combination laboratory/art installation, which is called “The Great Work of the Metal Lover” — this is a godsend! Otherwise, it is maybe not so useful.

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For starters, gold chloride is actually wicked expensive in its own right, so I hope you didn’t have any ideas for a get-rich-quick scheme involving a bacterial assembly line. And while gold chloride exists in nature, it doesn’t really exist in sufficient quantities for its toxicity to be a real problem. When they develop a bacterium that turns radioactive waste or cigarette butts or leftover fracking fluid into gold, then we’ll be talking.

Michigan State University“The Great Work of the Metal Lover.”

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Still, this is only half science. The other half is art, and artistically, this is cool. The researchers are displaying their goofily named lab publicly at the cyber-art competition Prix Ars Electronica, where spectators can watch microorganisms create precious metal right in front of their eyes. You have to admit, that would be a cool thing to see. Plus, it means we’ve finally achieved the fondest dream of medieval Europe! Next, maybe they’ll figure out a way to eradicate witches.