Thursday, January 15, 2015

Discovery Of 'Electric Bacteria' Hints At The Potential For Alien Life

George Dvorsky
July/17/14 8:40am

Microbiologists have learned that certain strains of bacteria are capable of using energy in its purest form by eating and breathing electrons. It's a discovery that demonstrates an entirely new mode of life on Earth — and possibly beyond.

Called "electric bacteria," these microbes harvest electrons from rocks and metals. These microbes produce hair-like filaments that act as wires, ferrying electrons back and forth between the cells and their environment.

Scientists have already shown that two types of bacteria, Shewanella and Geobacter, are capable of doing this, but they're learning that many more strains exist, including those that can be enticed out of rocks and marine mud using electricity. New Scientist explains:

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.


Nealson's team is now growing its very own electric bacteria, keeping them alive with electricity and literally nothing else. His colleague, Annette Rowe, has identified up to eight different kinds of bacteria that eat electricity


[They might be able to keep them alive with just electricity, but their bodies, including filaments, are made of matter, which has to come from somewhere. They must need more than electricity to multiply.]

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