Scientists have discovered that certain microbes get energy from electrical charges.
Scientists have discovered that certain microbes find electricity very tasty. What's more, it turns out that these electron-eating microbes are very common. Scientists are finding them in many different places.
Microbes – microscopic organisms such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi – don't have mouths, so they need another way to bring their fuel into their bodies. A new study, published November 5, 2019, in the journal mBio, reveals how one such bacteria pulls in electrons straight from an electrode source.
According to the researchers, getting electricity across the outer layer of the bacteria is the key challenge. This barrier is both nonconductive and impermeable to insoluble iron minerals and/or electrodes.
The study scientists showed that the naturally occurring strain of a bacteria called Rhodopseudomonas palustris TIE-1 builds a conduit to accept electrons across its outer membrane. According to the research, the bacteria rely on an iron-containing helper molecule called a deca-heme cytochrome c. By processing this protein, TIE-1 can form an essential bridge to its electron source.
The ability of these microbes to take up electrons from substances such as metal oxides – called extracellular electron uptake – can help microbes to survive under nutrient-scarce conditions.