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Scientists have developed a technique to “trick” common iron-eating bacteria into capturing electrons, which the bacteria use to grow. Typically the bacteria contribute to the corrosion of steel pipelines, bridges and ships, but researchers at the University of Minnesota’s BioTechnology Institute used electrons from an electrode to make the bacteria “breathe.” It’s hoped that the method could be combined with renewable energy sources to developed sustainable biofuels.
Scientists Daniel Bond, Zarath Summers and Jeffrey Gralnick of the University of Minnesota’s BioTechnology Institute used the co-called electrochemical cultivation to grow iron-oxidizing bacteria without any presence of iron. By adding marine oxidizer Mariprofundus ferrooxydans PV-1, along with some nutrient medium to an electrode, the bacteria was tricked into consuming electrons as if it were in its natural, iron-saturated environment. The bacteria absorbed electrons directly from the electrode, which enabled it to capture carbon dioxide and multiply.
“It’s a new way to cultivate a microorganism that’s been very difficult to study. But the fact that these organisms can synthesize everything they need using only electricity makes us very interested in their abilities,” said Daniel Bond.
By funneling electricity generated from renewables to iron-oxidizing bacteria that combines it with carbon dioxide, scientists would be able to create and store biofuels, along with other useful products. The actual process of converting energy in electricity into a product that could be stored in a tank requires additional research, according to Bond.
The research will be published in the January issue of mBio, an online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
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