Biologists at the University Of Southern California (USC) have recently discovered a living bacteria called geobacter metallireducens which can littlery live on electricity alone instead of food they consume electrons and excrete them.
This is one of the strangest forms of life we have ever found with this consumption of electrons an need to survive, however the biologists believe this is something humans could in turn utilise to our advantage.
These micro electro eaters could provide us with the ability to create self-powered nanoscale devices or create electrical system without the need for copper to be used as another as an even stranger feature to these bacteria is that they have the ability to form biocables.
These biocables are micro-bacterial nanowires which interconnect with each other pass electricity and also grow to be centimetres long, this is where this bacteria could come in very handy as this could be replacement of copper which we at this moment are very heavily dependent upon.
However we don’t fully know what the limit of voltages and current these guys take nor do we can we totally confirm the resistance of the electricity as it moves through them but still this is a missive feat in biotechnology.
“This also presents a new amazing feature to organic technology as it would also be self-healing to damage or stress, which knocks copper right out of the park as a conductor”
Let’s take a step back, and understand how creatures such as ourselves take in energy.
Most of everything you eat is eventually converted into single molecules of glucose. Breaking this down even further glucose has excess electrons and the oxygen you breathe in is attracted to these electrons, this creates a transport for electrons from sugar to oxygen and eventually creates a flow of electrons, thus creating the energy you need to stay alive.
That is a very basic overview of how electron flow happens in your body but now that we have outlined how we do it we can understand how they do it.
How do they eat electricity ?
The geobacter metallireducens don’t need sugars such as glucose, instead they have evolved to remove this from their bodies and feed directly upon the electrons themselves.
The scientists here took some samples from the ocean (their natural habitat) and took them back to a lab, here they applied an anode and a cathode and placed the bacteria on each end around the electrodes.
They then varied the voltages going to them, it’s here they noticed that when a high voltage is present the bacteria began to eat the electrons directly from the electrode. When a low voltage was produced the bacteria release the electrons back onto the electrode whereby now creating an electric current.
The scientists very carefully controlled their other sources of nutrition to be 100% sure that they were consuming electrons.
In the world researchers have found over 10 kinds of bacteria that do this but the interesting part here is that some of these have nothing in common except for this! Some of the bacteria such as Shewanella or Geobacter which are two well know bacteria to have very interesting properties when dealing with electrical power.
Kenneth Nealson speaking to new scientist said:
“This is huge. What it means is that there’s a whole part of the microbial world that we don’t know about.”
The repercussions for finding bacteria like this are quite large and with a bioengineering could be used to create nano- machines or influence biotechnology greatly. They hold many keys for us to investigate into how living organisms actually utilise energy and may help us utilise it better in the future!
There seems to be much promise in this field, however I think we are a long way off becoming electro from Spiderman!
Have a great TECH2DAY