Biologists Discover Electric Bacteria That Eat Pure Electrons

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Biologists Discover Electric Bacteria That Eat Pure Electrons

By Sebastian Anthony

     Some intrepid biologists at the University of Southern California (USC) have discovered bacteria that survives on nothing but electricity — rather than food, they eat and excrete pure electrons. These bacteria yet again prove the almost miraculous tenacity of life — but, from a technology standpoint, they might also prove to be useful in enabling the creation of self-powered nanoscale devices that clean up pollution. Some of these bacteria also have the curious ability to form into ‘biocables,’ microbial nanowires that are centimeters long and conduct electricity as well as copper wires — a capability that might one day be tapped to build long, self-assembling subsurface networks for human use.

As you may recall from high school biology, almost every living organism consumes sugar to survive. When it gets right down to it, everything you eat is ultimately converted or digested into single molecules of glucose. Without going into the complexities of respiration and metabolism (ATP!), these sugars have excess electrons — and the oxygen you breathe in really wants those electrons. By ferrying electrons from sugar to oxygen, a flow of electrons — i.e. energy — is created, which is then used to carry out various vital tasks around your body (triggering electrons, beating your heart, etc.)

These special bacteria, however, don’t need no poxy sugars — instead, they cut out the middleman and feed directly on electrons. To discover these bacteria, and to cultivate them in the lab, the USC biologists quite simply scooped up some sediment from the ocean, took it back to the lab, stuck some electrodes into it, and then turned on the power. . . .

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