Bacteria use caffeine as food source

May 24, 2011

A new bacterium that uses caffeine for food has been discovered by a doctoral student at the University of Iowa. The bacterium uses newly discovered digestive enzymes to break down the caffeine, which allows it to live and grow.

"We have isolated a new caffeine-degrading bacterium, putida CBB5, which breaks caffeine down into carbon dioxide and ammonia," says Ryan Summers, who presents his research today at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.

Caffeine itself is composed of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, all of which are necessary for bacterial cell growth. Within the caffeine molecule are three structures, known as , composed of 1 carbon and 3 hydrogens atoms. This bacterium is able to effectively remove these methyl groups (a process known as N-demethylization) and essentially live on caffeine.

Summers and his colleagues have identified the three enzymes responsible for the N-demethylization and the genes that code for these enzymes. Further testing showed that the compounds formed during break down of caffeine are natural building blocks for drugs used to treat asthma, improve blood flow and stabilize .

Currently these pharmaceuticals are difficult to synthesize chemically. Using CBB5 enzymes would allow for easier pharmaceutical production, thus lowering their cost. Another potential application is the decaffeination of coffee and tea as an alternative to harsh chemicals currently used.

"This work, for the first time, demonstrates the enzymes and genes utilized by bacteria to live on caffeine," says Summers.

Explore further: How do our muscles work? Scientists reveal important new insights into muscle protein

Provided by American Society for Microbiology

4.5 /5 (6 votes)

Related Stories

Caffeine powder is recalled

May 21, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Spectrum Laboratory Products Inc. is recalling its Caffeine Citrated Powder due to potential potency issues.

Caffeine abuse becoming health problem

Nov 27, 2006

Use of caffeine as a stimulant is becoming a problem among U.S. young people who can't get enough of it, Northwestern University researchers say.

Caffeine effects on children studied

Apr 26, 2006

Arkansas scientists say they've found caffeine elevates blood pressure and lowers heart rate in children during exercise, but doesn't affect metabolism.

In women, caffeine may protect memory

Aug 06, 2007

Caffeine may help older women protect their thinking skills, according to a study published in the August 7, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Genetic variants associated with caffeine intake identified

Apr 06, 2011

Two genes in which variation affects intake of caffeine, the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, have been discovered. A team of investigators from the National Cancer Institute, Harvard School of Public Health, ...

Recommended for you

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

3 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

How calcium regulates mitochondrial carrier proteins

Nov 26, 2014

Mitochondrial carriers are a family of proteins that play the key role of transporting a chemically diverse range of molecules across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carriers are part of ...

Team conducts unprecedented analysis of microbial ecosystem

Nov 26, 2014

An international team of scientists from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) have completed a first-of-its-kind microbial analysis of a biological ...

Students create microbe to weaken superbug

Nov 25, 2014

A team of undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo have designed a synthetic organism that may one day help doctors treat MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

EWH
5 / 5 (2) May 24, 2011
Noooo!!! Caffeine-destroying germs! Humanity would be doomed if these get out!
Eric_B
not rated yet May 24, 2011
EWH; LOL

Hmmm....just on a whim I have been putting a pinch of old coffee grounds into the water when I am rooting cuttings. I never really did a controlled study or research to see if I was helping the plant or killing it. Do cuttings like ammonia?
stealthc
not rated yet May 24, 2011
lol I wouldn't worry about that very much, you would have to produce a freak event where that specific bacteria monopolized on the situation over all others, versus the usual variety that it likely has (1000's upon 1000's of varieties of bacteria all intermingling).
Donutz
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2011
Big deal. I've been using caffeine as a food source for years!

:-)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.