Electric Bacteria Eat Electricity, Shows Research [Video]

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By Afza Fathima | July 18, 2014 1:28 PM EST

Researchers have found that electric bacteria, like Shewanella and Geobacter, feast on electricity. They are on a hunt to find more species that 'eat' electricity. No other species in the world can use energy in the purest of forms like these electric bacteria do. 

Reuters
A microscopic image of spores and vegetative cells in the bacteria Bacillus Anthracis June 19, 2014

Kenneth Nealson, microbiologist from University of California, said that though this diet seems shocking, it doesn't come as a surprise because life involves a flow of electrons. He said that life figures out how to take out electrons from every element that one eats and keeps the electrons under control. He continued that the bacteria get their electrons from minerals, which is equivalent to humans putting their fingers into a DC electrical socket.

He noted that all the energy one makes is the same for all organisms on Earth and that for anything to gain energy, electrons must flow. When a person dies of suffocation, the supply of oxygen is stopped and hence no electrons flow.

In the laboratory, bacteria have been hooked on to electrodes to see how the phenomenon works. The electricity in the bacteria can possibly help in developing self-powered devices that can clean unclean groundwater and sewage.

Sediments were collected from the seabed to help grow the electric bacteria and then electrodes are inserted into it. 

To grow these bacteria, the team collects sediment from the seabed, brings it to the lab, and then, they insert electrodes into it. The natural voltage of the sediment from the seabed is measured, after which, a slightly higher voltage, resulting in excess of electrons, or a slightly lower voltage, resulting in the electrode accepting electrons from anything that passed through them, will be applied.The bacteria have two options: to feast on the electrons from the higher voltage or to breathe the electrons from the lower voltage. 

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(Photo: Reuters / )
A microscopic image of spores and vegetative cells in the bacteria Bacillus Anthracis June 19, 2014
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