Scientists are studying how electrical bacteria may help clean oil spills and curb methane emissions.
What are electrical bacteria?
Cable bacteria resemble lengthy sausage links when viewed under a microscope. Their multicellular bodies can enlarge to a maximum length of 5 centimeters. Parallel “wires” of conductive proteins that the bacteria utilize to channel electrons are incorporated into each cell’s outer membrane. Scientists assert that the wires are more conductive than the electronic semiconductors.
How might they help the environment?
Researchers are examining how to promote the bacteria’s growth to help clean up oil spills after laboratory tests revealed that cable bacteria can assist other germs that eat crude oil. Additionally, studies have found that cable bacteria may reduce atmospheric methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas. Cable bacteria were originally identified in sand taken from the seafloor of Denmark’s Aarhus Bay about ten years ago. Since then, streams, lakes, estuaries, and coastal ecosystems have all been discovered to contain cable bacteria on at least four different continents.
The majority of the time, cable bacteria live shallowly in the sediment, with one end inserted into deeper, sulfide-rich zones, and the other end near the surface where there is oxygen. According to Nicole Geerlings, a biogeochemist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, cable bacteria capture electrons from sulfides on one end and off-load them to oxygen—an eager electron acceptor—on the other end using their filamentous bodies as electrical conduits.