Bacteria adapted to heat that ‘breath’ and ‘eat’ electricity through the surface of solid carbon electrodes have been identified in an experiment at Yellowstone.
In the study, scientists left electrodes inserted into four pristine pools of hot water at Yellowstone, hoping to lure the little-known creatures out of their hiding spots.
And after 32 days, they actually did it.
The team returned to the four pools and collected the submerged electrodes they had left 32 days ago.
Researches returned to the lab and analyzed the electrodes and found they actually succeeded in capturing the heat-loving bacteria that “breathe and eat” electricity.
The findings of the new research were published in inthe Journal of Power Sources.
“This was the first time such bacteria were collected in situ in an extreme environment like an alkaline hot spring,” explained Abdelrhman Mohamed from Washington State University, adding that temperatures in the springs ranged from about 110 to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to the study, these small creatures may have a key to solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity: environmental pollution and sustainable energy.
These bacteria can “eat” the contamination by converting toxic contaminants into less harmful substances and generating electricity in the process.
“As these bacteria pass their electrons into metals or other solid surfaces, they can produce a stream of electricity that can be used for low-power applications,” explained Haluk Beyenal of Washington State University.
Most living organisms, including humans, use electrons which are small particles with a negative charge, in a complex chain of chemical reactions to feed their bodies.
Each organism needs a source of electrons and a place to discharge the electrons to live.
While humans get our electrons from sugars in the food we eat and pass them to the oxygen we breathe through our lungs, various types of bacteria discharge their electrons to outside metals or minerals, using protruding hair-like wires.
To capture the tiny creatures, Mohamed designed and built a cheap and portable electronic device that could control the electrodes submerged in the hot springs for prolonged periods of time.
“The natural conditions found in geothermal features such as hot springs are difficult to replicate in laboratory settings,” said Beyenal.
“So, we developed a new strategy to enrich heat-loving bacteria in their natural environment.”