Pollution-eating bacteria produce electricity

June 7, 2005

Microbiologists seeking ways to eliminate pollution from waterways with microbes instead discovered that some pollution-eating bacteria commonly found in freshwater ponds can generate electricity. They present their findings today at the 105th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

"The bacteria are capable of continuously generating electricity at levels that could be used to operate small electronic devices. As long as the bacteria are fed fuel they are able to produce electricity 24 hours a day," says Charles Milliken of the Medical University of South Carolina, who conducted the research with colleague Harold May.

The use of bacteria to create electricity is not necessarily a new idea. Other researchers have developed microbial fuel cells using simple sugars or organic waste products. What makes Milliken's and May's discovery so unique is the bacterium itself. It is the member of a genus known as Desulfitobacterium, which up until now was not known to have the capacity to generate electricity. These bacteria are most commonly known for their ability to breakdown and detoxify some of the most problematic environmental pollutants, including PCBs and some chemical solvents.

"These bacteria are very diverse in their metabolic capabilities, including the food that they can consume. That means that these bacteria can convert a large number of different food sources into electricity," says Milliken. "The technology could be used to assist in the reclamation of wastewaters, thereby resulting in the removal of waste and generation of electricity."

Another unique characteristic of these bacteria is that they are the first known spore-forming bacteria shown to continuously generate electricity. A bacterial spore is a dormant stage of growth for the organism and is highly resistant to heat, radiation and drying. Such characteristics could prove useful in future microbial fuel cell designs where the device need not always be operational but must survive long periods of hazardous conditions before being used.

"The generation of electricity is one of those things that we tend not to think about during our daily routines. When we do, thoughts on bacteria usually do not enter our minds. Bacteria make you sick, they are important in the processing of food, but making electricity? Surely that is not part of the story. But it is," says Milliken.

Source: American Society for Microbiology

Explore further: Technique identifies electricity-producing bacteria

Related Stories

Technique identifies electricity-producing bacteria

January 11, 2019

Living in extreme conditions requires creative adaptations. For certain species of bacteria that exist in oxygen-deprived environments, this means finding a way to breathe that doesn't involve oxygen. These hardy microbes, ...

Termite-gut microbes extract clean energy from coal

January 8, 2019

Termites generally don't elicit a whole lot of love. But surprisingly, this wood-eating insect may hold the key to transforming coal—a big polluting chunk of the global energy supply—into cleaner energy for the world, ...

'Bionic mushrooms' fuse nanotech, bacteria and fungi

November 7, 2018

In their latest feat of engineering, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have taken an ordinary white button mushroom from a grocery store and made it bionic, supercharging it with 3-D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria ...

Living electrodes with bacteria and organic electronics

November 26, 2018

Researchers at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Linköping University, have together with colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, developed a method that increases the signal ...

Low-cost catalyst boosts hydrogen production from water

December 12, 2018

A future powered by carbon-free fuel depends on our ability to harness and store energy from renewable but intermittent sources, such as solar and wind. Now, a new catalyst developed at University of Toronto Engineering gives ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

0 comments

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.