Discovery of metal-breathing bacteria can change electronics

Researchers find an unusual property of a bacteria that can breathe in metal.

Discovery of metal-breathing bacteria can change electronics

Shewanella oneidensis bacterium

Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Scientists discover Shewanella oneidensis bacterium can "breathe in" certain metals and compounds.
  • The bacteria produces a material that can be used to transfer electrons.
  • Applications of the finding range from medical devices to new generation of sensors.

Researchers discovered an unusual property of a bacteria that can "breathe" in some metal and sulfur compounds and create materials that can improve electronics, energy storage, and medical devices.

Specifically, the anaerobic Shewanella oneidensis bacterium can produce molybdenum disulfide, a material that can transfer electronics as well as graphene, explains the press release from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whose team of engineers carried out the research.

Engineering professor Shayla Sawyer thinks their accomplishment "has some serious potential" once the scientists fully investigate the process involved and learn to control it.

One of the possible applications of this finding could be in developing a new generation of nutrient sensors to be used on lakes and other bodies of water to examine the health of their ecosystems. A bacterial biofilm, a collective of the microorganisms, could track excess nutrients in real-time, helping address harmful algae growth and other water issues.

Postdoctorate researcher James Rees, who led the study, commented on the implications of their work:

"We find bacteria that are adapted to specific geochemical or biochemical environments can create, in some cases, very interesting and novel materials," Rees shared. "We are trying to bring that into the electrical engineering world."

What's unusual about Shewanella oneidensis is that it can create nanowires for transferring electrons, a fact that "lends itself to connecting to electronic devices that have already been made," Sawyer elaborated, calling it "the interface between the living world and the manmade world that is fascinating."

Check out the new study, which also involved Yuri Gorby as the paper's third author, in Biointerphases.


‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

These are the world’s greatest threats in 2021

We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.

Luis Ascui/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.

Keep reading Show less

Columbia study finds new way to extract energy from black holes

A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Surprising Science
  • In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
  • A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
  • The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

A psychiatric diagnosis can be more than an unkind ‘label’

A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast