Bacteria that ‘eat’ pollutants to generate electricity discovered

Tiny creatures that can “eat” pollutants to generate electricity were discovered for the first time. Scientists found these bacteria in the Yellowstone National Park, in the USA. These bacteria are adapted to living in geysers and hot springs that can reach over 90°C.

These “electrogenic” microbes were targeted due to their ability to produce power, which could be harnessed in the future to drive devices. However, the scientists admitted that this could be tricky because the bacteria live in extreme environments, which upon changing, might deliver different results.

“This was the first time such bacteria were collected in situ in an extreme environment like an alkaline hot spring,” said Abdelrhman Mohamed, a PhD student at Washington State University. The team stuck electrodes into the water of four hot springs, and left them for a month to be colonised by the bacteria.

These electricity-producing bacteria convert toxic pollutants into less harmful substances. During the process, electrons passing through their body as they digest their food are discarded outside their bodies through hair-like structures that protrude from their bodies. This produces a stream of electricity in an efficient process that could be used in low-power applications.

While scientists hope that the microbes could one day power all kinds of systems, they are limited by the handful of varieties that have been grown in labs. However, by employing the naturally occurring populations in places like Yellowstone, they hope they can develop something that helps to both produce electricity and clear up pollutants.