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article imageOp-Ed: Bacteria that ‘eat and breathe’ electricity in Yellowstone

By Paul Wallis     Mar 5, 2019 in Science
Pullman - One thing about modern science: It keeps finding new useful things. The most recent discovery is bacteria that can “breathe” electricity through solid carbon anodes — and could even produce electricity sufficient for lower power applications.
The discovery was made by a team from Washington State University on a hike through Yellowstone. Stopping at one of the parks’ famous hot springs, they found an alkaline spring at a brisk 200 degrees Fahrenheit, they planted some anodes in the water. A few weeks later, they’d caught the bacteria, and they were capturing, breathing, and “eating” the electricity.
The exact species of bacteria rather annoyingly isn’t identified in the WSU publication. A lot of bacteria have electron managing dynamics which range from eating pollutants to other exotic behaviours.
In effect, these bacteria were living in an alkaline environment, a natural “battery”. They’ve obviously adapted to make the best use of available energy, and they’re so efficient that there are possible practical applications for power systems. (Some of these bacteria are called "electrogenic", because they generate electricity.)
Ramifications of the research
Bioelectricity and biofilms as power sources are relatively new science. The mechanics of electron transfer may be incredibly useful. One thing that needs to be understood about these bacteria is that they’re incredibly energy efficient and widely variegated. The vast ranges of possibilities in terms of adapting their electron usage, or doing an artificial version of it, are immense.
For example:
• Can bioelectric power in some form, or a synthetic form of it, be used for robotics, to deliver micro power to onboard systems?
• Can this type of micro power be built in to reduce emissions, creating a natural source of power to cut consumption and costs?
• What if your phone or tablet or some other type of appliance could use some version of micro power to charge itself?
• Can this type of energy transfer or a version of it be used in human tissues for managing neurological conditions?
• Can bioelectrical dynamics be used for mitochondrial conditions?
• A vast range of chemical process possibilities are created by the bioelectrical process.
There’s really no limit, and this research is particularly timely in regards to other science. Future computing systems currently (terrible pun) under research are based on a mix of photonic computing, quantum computing, and use similar low power, but very high performance dynamics. Built in bio power could be exactly what’s required. There’s almost no end to the engineering options and possible uses.
Don’t be too surprised to find out your future devices are run by actual little critters or artificial versions of their bioelectrics. Imagine a power source you can grow, stick in a power system, and use anytime. It’s fascinating stuff.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about bioelctrical, Washington State University research, bacterial biofilms, biofilm electrical applications, Biology
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