Illustration of bacteria

Electricity munching bacteria at workScientists at the University Of Southern California (USC) have discovered bacteria that survive on nothing but electricity. Rather than eat food, they eat (and excrete) pure electrons. This is a, ahem, shocking discovery as almost all life on earth survive by consuming sugar to survive.

Everything you eat is first digested and then converted into glucose sugars. The sugars that result carry excess electrons (using a molecule called ATP) which are ferried from the sugar to the oxygen you breathe creating a flow of electrons – or energy. Your body uses this energy to do everything from moving around a room to picking your nose. The bizarre bacteria discovered by the USC geeks however, do not need to process sugars to start up the flow of electron energy. They feed directly on electrons, cutting out the middle man altogether.

The USC biologists began by gathering bacteria obtained from sediment gathered on the ocean floor. They took the bacteria back to the lab and stuck them back in water. Then they (cruelly we might add) stuck electrodes to the water. They found that when higher voltages were pumped into the water, the bacteria “ate” electrons from the electrodes. When a lower voltage was applied, the bacteria breathed a sigh of relief and “exhaled” electrons onto the electrode. Pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, the bacteria were getting their energy from its purest form – electrons – the equivalent of a person sticking their finger in an electrical socket (don’t try this by the way, electricity is not only dangerous, it’s expensive).

All told, various researchers around the world have now discovered upwards of 10 different kinds of bacteria that feed on electricity many of which, they hope may someday be used to power molecular-sized motors or nanomachines. For now, scientists are unsure how these amazing bacteria work.

Sources: New Scientist, Extreme Tech
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