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: Caffeine effects on children studied

Related Stories

Caffeine effects on children studied

April 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.

Caffeine abuse becoming health problem

November 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 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.

In women, caffeine may protect memory

August 6, 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.

Recommended for you

Plastic in 99 percent of seabirds by 2050

August 31, 2015

Researchers from CSIRO and Imperial College London have assessed how widespread the threat of plastic is for the world's seabirds, including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins, and found the majority of seabird species ...

Researchers unveil DNA-guided 3-D printing of human tissue

August 31, 2015

A UCSF-led team has developed a technique to build tiny models of human tissues, called organoids, more precisely than ever before using a process that turns human cells into a biological equivalent of LEGO bricks. These ...

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

4 comments

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.