Bacteria found to form living extension cords in ocean mud

It took us humans a long, long time to figure out that electricity is good for blogging, but other living things have been taking advantage of it for ages to do other, more important things like lighting up Christmas trees. Scientists in Denmark have discovered a new sort of bacteria that also use electricity, making a living by acting as microscopic extension cords.

Desulfobulbus bacteria live in the sulfurous mud that can be found at the bottom of the ocean. As with most bacteria, they're tiny little things, each one just a few thousandths of a millimeter long, but they're cleverer than most, because they can team up to form "chains" several centimeters long comprised of thousands of individual bacterial cells connected end to end.

That's kinda cool, but what's even cooler is why they do it. With a long enough chain, the bacteria can form a connection between a zone deep down in the sea mud that's poor in oxygen but rich in hydrogen sulfide, and a zone up near the top of the mud that's rich in oxygen but poor in hydrogen sulfide. By transporting electrons from the bottom of the chain to the top, the bacteria complete a chemical reaction that gives them enough energy to survive. The remarkable thing here is that the system only works if thousands of bacteria team up and form one connected cable, effectively becoming one single organism. The bacteria at the top are "breathing" while the bacteria at the bottom (deep in the mud) are "feeding," but all the bacteria end up benefiting from the current that runs through the cable.

At some point, living bacterial nanowiring like this "may find use in technology development," the researchers say. They haven't said more specific than that, not yet at least, but we're imagining carpets and walls covered with networks of bacteria that turn every available surface into an electrical outlet. Just as long as you fill your basement with sulfurous mud, that is.

Nature, via Futurity

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