Til bevillingsoversigt

Electrosymbiosis of cable bacteria

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier

What

I work with 'cable bacteria' which are bacteria that conducts electricity over their centimeter long bodies. These amazing bacteria were found in the sea bottom in Aarhus Bay only 10 years ago. I will examine if these cable bacteria can cooperate with other bacteria in the sea bottom. When we humans eat food, we take the electrons from the food, and take some of their energy, and then ultimately deposit it on oxygen when we breathe.

Many bacteria also breathe oxygen, but in the sea bottom oxygen can be scarce. It seems bacteria in the sea bottom can use cable bacteria to breathe, by taking the electrons from their food, giving it to cable bacteria, which finally can put it on oxygen. Thus the cable bacteria act as a snorkel for the other bacteria!

Why

Degradation processes happen much faster with oxygen available. Most of the sea bottom however, is without oxygen. If other bacteria can use the cable bacteria as a snorkel, this extends the reach of oxygen, and therefore makes these degradation processes happen much faster than would be possible without the cable bacteria present.

At the same time, this type of research into how bacteria share electrons helps us understand how bacteria have evolved to deal with electricity, millions of years before we humans discovered it. This means the solutions they evolved can potentially be of great help to our own technology and the materials we use to shunt electrons around.

How

I will be working with leading electromicrobiologists in Antwerp, Belgium. We will use advanced spectroscopy to look at the cable bacteria and find out how electrons get into them. We also want to use an advanced nanopipette, which can measure the current from an individual patch of membrane of a cell, and use it to locate the electron conduit.

Finally we will use a method where bacteria can connect to an electrode, and we can use that connection to say something about the nature of the connection, thus learning about how the electrons enter, and what energy level they are when they do.

SSR

This is a basic research project into a fascinating and new part of nature. Our job right now is to figure out the basics of this system. Once those are in place, we can start to apply it to problems. Already cable bacteria are being investigated as a means to help finding sites of pollution in groundwater using the electric field the bacteria generate. In a longer term, the cooperation between bacteria and cable bacteria could potentially be used to clean up contaminated and polluted sites.