Mar 26, 2019 | Updated: 01:45 PM EDT

Pollution-Consuming and Electricity-Producing Bacteria Successfully Collected for Research

Mar 08, 2019 08:07 AM EST

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Yellowstone National Park

Abdelrhman Mohamed is a Ph.D. candidate who is currently working for Washington State University. In their research, Mohamed, together with his colleagues, have successfully captured a type of bacteria that can absorb pollution and in the process, generate electricity.

The bacteria were said to thrive in the hot pools of Heart Lake Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. The temperature in these waters ranges from 110 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. However, since collecting such bacteria from a site described as an extreme environment has never been done before, this first time was not completed in a blink of an eye.

With the goal to collect the elusive bacteria, Mohamed had to invent a portable potentiostat which can control a three-electrode cell. For 32 days, Mohamed and his colleagues left the electrodes in the edge of the alkaline hot spring. The researchers were happy to find that their efforts have paid off as they have successfully collected the microorganisms in their optimum and natural environment. In an interview, Haluk Beyenal, a Paul Hohenschuh Distinguished Professor in the Gene, emphasized how difficult it was to replicate natural conditions in a laboratory setting, especially that of geothermal features of a hot spring. This prompted the development if a new strategy that will enrich the heat-thriving bacteria.

The collected microorganisms are said to eat pollution by converting toxic pollutants into less harmful substances. During this process,  bacteria generate energy in the form of electricity. According to Beyenal, this stream of electricity is produced as the bacteria transfer their electrons to solid surfaces through the hair-like structure acting like wires found on their bodies. The produced energy is said to have enough power for applications requiring a low source of energy.

Other experiments involving bacteria that can produce electricity has been done before. This includes that on microbes which produced energy-packed rings of carbon which is rarely found in nature. Another experiment involves bacteria being immersed in sewage water in order to produce electricity. Although for now, scientists are limited to microbes grown in laboratory settings, the possibility of using microorganisms to power all kinds of systems are being looked into.

The Washington State University team has collaborated with Montana State University to publish a research paper discussing the experiment on the bacteria they collected from Yellowstone National Park. The researchers are hopeful that this study may someday aid in resolving the world's problem in pollution and energy resources. 

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