October 25, 2012
New Seafloor Bacteria Discovered, Built like Undersea Electric Cables
By Colleen Lynch
An undersea mystery has finally been solved, but the answer is almost a mystery in itself. Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have discovered that areas of the seafloor which were strangely able to conduct electric currents are actually fueled by undiscovered multicellular bacteria.
Electricity underwater seems impossible, but nature has proven time and again that humanity’s assumptions are generally laughable--this bacteria finding marks the case and point.
The electrically charged species of bacteria lives in the mud of the seafloor, acting in a sense as living electrical cables, despite being surrounded by water, which is obviously not the greatest conductor.
Aarhus University researchers became aware of the conundrum three years ago, and have spent their time in a search of the source of the seemingly impossible current. Initially they began the search by looking for a way to shut the current down, which led the researchers to lay non-conducting wire in the charged mud. The wire successfully stopped the current, which suggested that the current was traveling through a physical medium--just like an actual electric wire would.
But there was no wire there. The researchers were baffled, but sifting through the mud they eventually discovered the culprit: an entirely new species of bacteria, about a centimeter long and 100 times thinner than a human hair.
The bacterium remains unnamed as of yet, but the species apparently consists of a mind-bending biology: the bacteria is essentially made of long, electrically conducting filaments packed inside an insulated membrane.
It is a living electric cable, stretched incredibly thin and built from condensed living cells.
Numerous samples of the bacteria are now being studied by the Aarhus team, with an eye to what the researchers can find out about the bacteria’s past, its role in the development of ocean life, and what prospects the bacterial wires could hold for the future.
Biotechnology and engineering are two areas which could benefit greatly from such an astounding natural phenomenon.
Edited by Brooke Neuman
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