Scientists discover bacteria that can generate electricity


Did you know that bacteria in nature breathe by exhaling excess electrons, causing an inherent electrical grid? In a new study, researchers from Yale University have found that light can increase the activity of these electronic components in biofilm bacteria.

According to their research, this condition results in a 100-fold increase in electrical conductivity. The dramatic increase in current in the nanowires exposed to light indicates a stable and strong light current that lasts for hours.

Senior author of the study, Nikhil Malvankar, a professor of biophysics and molecular biochemistry at the Yale West Campus Microbial Sciences Institute, said scientists are now looking for ways to take advantage of this new discovery and find applications for it, such as eliminating biohazardous waste and creating new and renewable fuel sources.


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It is common for living things to inhale oxygen to throw away excess electrons as they convert nutrients into energy. However, soil bacteria that live deep in the oceans or buried underground for billions of years do not have access to this precious oxygen.

Therefore, they developed a way to breathe by “inhaling minerals” through tiny protein strands called nanowires. Scientists found that when these types of bacteria were exposed to light, they produced a substantial and surprising increase in electric current.

“Nobody knows how it happened,” Malvankar said quoted by Interesting Engineering on Tuesday (9/20/2022).

In the new study, a research team led by postdoctoral researcher Jens Neu and graduate student Catharine Shipps found that this process is powered by a metal-containing protein known as cytochrome OmcS (which forms bacterial nanowires, the tool that bacteria use. to breathe).

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OmcS essentially acts as a natural photoconductor which facilitates efficient electron transfer when the biofilm is exposed to light.

“This is a completely different form of photosynthesis. Here, the light accelerates the respiration of bacteria due to the rapid transfer of electrons between the nanowires,” Malvankar said.

Currently, Malvankar’s lab is exploring how this discovery could be used to stimulate the growth of optoelectronics and even capture methane to help combat global warming.

These aren’t the only bacteria that have beneficial properties. In August 2018, a team of microbiologists from Washington State University discovered bacteria in Yellowstone National Park’s Heart Lake Geyser Basin that can “breathe” electricity by passing electrons to an external metal or mineral using protruding wire-like feathers.

When bacteria exchange electrons, they generate an electric current that could be harnessed for low-power applications. In theory, as long as the bacteria have fuel, they can continue to produce energy.

Then, in June 2022, a research team from Binghamton University found a way to power biobatteries for weeks and weeks using three types of bacteria housed in separate rooms.

These findings show that nature can provide many solutions to some of today’s most insurmountable problems. What is needed is research and development in the right direction.

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(rns / fay)

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