Geobacter and Shewanella bacteria have become popular over the past decade not only because of their food source- naked electrons, but also because they have incredible electron transfer capabilities. These organisms have huge potential for alternative electricity generation, and as it turns out, they are not at all one of a kind.
Various research teams have used Geobacter to clean up nuclear waste, to generate electricity from hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and to produce small amount of electricity from mud and wastewater. A team of scientist from University of Southern California, however, are now looking for other types of electric bacteria, different from the two that we already know, that can do just the same.
The research group discovered that this micro-biosphere is actually huge, and extremely diverse, which opens up a whole new niche for scientific research and developments in the field of energy generation. They have already shown that bacteria can produce electrical power without being fed anything but a supply of naked electrons, but this is only the start with a lot more to come.
Kenneth Nealson, and his research team, are now exploring what would happen if thousands of these bacteria are grown directly onto electrodes. The preliminary results are fascinating, although the guys have not even begun to explore the all possibilities. They demonstrated that when these bacteria are joined together, they form long chains that carry electrons– just like a typical cable, only that this one is a living one (see video here).
Because these bacteria are highly efficient in nature, managing to find naked electrons pretty much everywhere- rocks, sand, mud, you name it, their potential for alternative energy generation is incredible. There is only one question that is still unanswered, and somehow holds research slightly back. That is the fact that scientists are not entirely certain yet to how exactly these bacteria manage to remain intact and not get torn into pieces by free electrons just like every other living cell.
Image (c) SPL