HERE COMES THE METAL MELTDOWN
By Angela Garrity, Guest Blogger
Science just discovered a new bacteria that is so hardcore, it eats metal. In addition, this discovery was made by complete accident – oh yeah!
Myarklamiss reports that “Scientists have discovered a type of bacteria that eats and gets its calories from metal, after suspecting they exist for more than a hundred years but never proving it.
Now microbiologists from the California Institute of Technology (or Caltech) accidentally discovered the bacteria after performing unrelated experiments using a chalk-like type of manganese, a commonly found chemical element.”
There’s more than one way to achieve a metal meltdown and sometimes it occurs by complete accident.
“Dr. Jared Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology at Caltech in Pasadena, left a glass jar covered with the substance to soak in tap water in his office sink, and left the vessel for several months when he went to work off campus.
When he returned, Leadbetter found the jar coated with a dark material. “I thought, ‘What is that?’ ” Leadbetter explained in a press release. “I started to wonder if long-sought-after microbes might be responsible, so we systematically performed tests to figure that out.”
Researchers discovered that the black coating found on the jar was oxidized manganese which had been generated by newly discovered bacteria most likely found in the tap water.”
Bad water indeed.
“These are the first bacteria found to use manganese as their source of fuel,” Leadbetter said. “A wonderful aspect of microbes in nature is that they can metabolize seemingly unlikely materials, like metals, yielding energy useful to the cell.”
This research also concluded that the bacteria can use manganese for chemosynthesis, a process that converts carbon dioxide into biomass.
The research team was open to the idea that perhaps the mysterious microbes could grow, along with previously established bacteria and fungi. Because of this possibility, scientists believe the findings will help them better understand groundwater and other water systems that can be clogged by manganese oxides.
“This discovery from Jared and Hang fills a major intellectual gap in our understanding of Earth’s elemental cycles, and adds to the diverse ways in which manganese, an abstruse but common transition metal, has shaped the evolution of life on our planet,” said Woodward Fischer, a professor of geobiology at Caltech, in the article.