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Why can many types of bacteria produce electricity?
Researchers have now found that the bacteria in our stomach have an interesting property. These and many other types of bacteria are able to produce electricity. Could this be used to make living batteries in the future?
The University of California, Berkeley scientists found in their current study that many types of bacteria can produce electricity. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Nature".
Electricity generation in the future from bacteria?
Listeria, which can contaminate food and cause listeriosis, is able to produce energy under certain environmental conditions (e.g. lack of oxygen). When these bacteria grow in a bottle with inserted electrodes, they produce a measurable electrical current, the experts explain. Scientists are now looking for ways to optimize this capability and use it, for example, to generate electricity in waste treatment plants.
What types of bacteria can generate electricity?
It used to be thought that the only so-called electrogenic bacterial species live in harsh, mineral-rich environments such as mines and the bed of rivers or water. However, the researchers found various examples of Clostridium bacteria and infectious strains from hospitals, which can also produce electricity. They also found this property in various types of beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacilli, which are found in probiotic drinks for health benefits and are also used in yogurt and cheese production.
For a long time, electricity-producing bacteria were ignored
The fact that so many types of human-related bacteria, either as pathogens, in probiotics, in our microbiota, or as an assistant in the fermentation of human products, are capable of producing electricity has become too long overlooked or not given enough attention, study author Professor Dan Portnoy of the University of California, Berkeley explains in a press release.
Bacteria produce electricity as part of their metabolism
Finding that bacteria produce electricity could help to understand how these bacteria infect us or contribute to improved gut health. Bacteria produce electricity as part of their metabolism. In humans, our cells use the oxygen we breathe to control the transfer of energy-transferring electrons, which are included in our diet as sugar and other molecules and which supply each cell with energy, the scientists explain. Single-celled bacteria that live in environments with little oxygen do not have this option. You therefore have to use different chemical elements to promote this electron flow.
In the case of electrogenic bacteria found in acidic waters or mines, they use minerals such as iron or manganese for this. Since these minerals are outside the cell, the electrons have to go through several steps to reach them. They use the internal current that conducts electrons like along a copper wire. In intestinal bacteria, the electrons normally have access to a very effective electron acceptor (flavin) as soon as they run out of oxygen. This molecule consists of vitamin B12, which is essential for the action of all human cells and therefore abundant in the human body.
How much electricity do intestinal bacteria produce?
The researchers found that intestinal bacteria produce just as much electricity (around 500 microamperes) as those bacteria that exchange minerals despite a simplified method. It seems that the cell structure of these bacteria and the ecological niche they occupy make it much easier and “less expensive” to remove electrons from the cell, the authors say. (as)