Young Generation. Future Scientists.

It is of great importance for us to involve the young generation to a special extent, as they are the future of this society and also future scientists. All our team members have been curious children who had to get to the bottom of things. And of course we all remember when we first entered a lab. Is was thus an affair of the heart to invite high school students into the lab and to get them enthusiastic about synthetic biology.

Moreover, our project is designed to provide a sustainable alternative to conventional gold recovery; hence it affects especially next generations. We were therefore curious about what high school students think about our project and how they imagined the future if our project was to be realized. We held an essay competition where students from the Life Science Lab Heidelbergat theDKFZ (German Cancer Research Center) could participate and hand in essays dealing with the consequences and implications of bacteria-based gold recovery for either society and politics, economy and industry, the environment or on an individual level. We selected the best-written essays and invited the respective authors for a tour in our lab.

We are grateful for the inspiring input we received as the different aspects and target groups were covered by the individual essays. The essay we found describing these far-reaching consequences best was submitted by Isabel Marleen Pötzsch.

How gold ruined my life.

Written by Isabel Marleen Pötzsch, student enrolled in the Life Scinece Lab of the German Cancer Research Center, (DKFZ), Heidelberg

My life is awful, awful, ever since these scientists from Heidelberg (may they be cursed) genetically modified bacteria, so it was able to precipitate gold from electronic scrap. With that idea they participated in a competition, something called “iGEM” I think, in 2013. People loved their idea and when companies bought the patent and started to massively recycle gold, there was more of it and it got less valuable.

I was one of the many people who invested in gold, which I had to raise a credit for. And because I thought gold would go on to be as precious as it was, I was fine with high interest. And when the price fell and they came to collect, I had to start selling; my house, my car and my holiday home in Florida. If I just hadn’t been so greedy. But I thought with the euro crisis and the problems Syria caused in the Middle East gold was a safe bet.

And now that I think about it, it was wrong, not only because of my loss (although that’s part of the reason too), I mean morally wrong, because people only invest in gold, when they think it’s the only thing steady, when they’re scared. Do you know what that means? That means that I invested in people’s angst.

But after a while the gold prize was okay again, not as high as it was, but okay and most people came back on their feet. But some didn’t. A few of the big investors took their own life.

Ironically the child mortality rate sank dramatically in both Nigeria and Tanzania. In Nigeria, they had problems, because the electronic waste was stored there, building huge dumping grounds, where children played and inhaled the toxic chemicals. But when the trash became precious it wasn’t brought there anymore and less children died.

It was similar in Tanzania, where small kids had to climb into pits to search for the smallest pieces of gold, and to be able to get those, they used mercury and lots of children were intoxicated and died. But because of this invention it wasn’t profitable anymore and they stopped.

And although “Greenpeace” did a number of demonstrations against Heidelberg’s idea at first, claiming it was “morally not acceptable to let genetically modified bacteria get out into our ecosystem, where it would rot out the natural form. And how these scientists could get up every morning, knowing, that they took a normal bacteria’s chance to live happily and content”, it wasn’t all bad as the examples above show.

In the end “Greenpeace” realized these advantages too and after several countries agreed that these bacteria should only go into expert’s hands, they stopped their demonstrations completely.

After rereading what I just wrote, I guess, despite the way I started this article, I don’t hate the invention or the inventors, I was just being selfish and childish. So I want to tell everyone out there who is as bitter and pessimistic as I was: Stop, reclaim what you lost and learn for the future!



Thanks to