Growing for the Gold
By Jeffrey Davis

(Business 2.0) – Forget California--the next gold rush could have prospectors running for the cornfields. At least that's the hope of Chris Anderson, founder of the world's first gold-farming company, Tiaki International, based in New Zealand. As a member of the earth sciences faculty at Massey University, the 31-year-old Anderson spent eight years refining a chemical process that causes plants to "hyperaccumulate" gold particles from soil. When canola, corn, or mustard is planted on old mining land with high concentrations of gold particles, the crops soak up gold and store it in their roots and leaves.

In 2003 trials at former mines in Brazil, Anderson's crops not only harvested gold but also accumulated mercury, the toxic metal long used by miners to extract gold. Though Tiaki's process requires the use of chemical sprays, it still leaves the soil in better shape than before, so the company hopes to eventually sell its services as a way to re-green mining sites. "The value of the crop should provide a cash incentive for miners to clean their land," says David Kryl, scientific director at SciTrax, which follows and commercializes emerging technologies. The trials prompted several investors to fund the startup earlier this year, and Tiaki is now prospecting for sites in China and Brazil to harvest gold, refine it into bullion, and sell it on the open market. Tiaki's payoff may be years away, but the opportunity is golden. -- JEFFREY DAVIS