All living things generate electricity. Humans, for example, produce electrical energy that is used to keep hearts pumping and brains thinking. Now scientists studying how certain bacteria give off electricity have discovered a mechanism that may make it easier to harness it for human use.
Scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of East Anglia in England found that the bacteria, a kind called Shewanella oneidensis that live in oxygen-free environments, release excess electricity through microscopic “wires” sticking through their cell walls.
As scientists map the exact structure of the bacteria, it may be possible to design electrodes with contacts that can pick up the charges. “We should be able to use this finding to harvest more electricity from the bacteria,” lead author Tom Clarke said. “Until now it’s been a bit like trying to build a radio when you don’t know what type or size of battery you are going to put into it. Now we have a blueprint of what the battery looks like.”
The bacteria are seen as a possible power source for applications ranging from charging mobile phones to cleaning up oil spills. But scientists say it will take years, noting that the technology for using the bacteria needs to be hundreds of times more efficient than it is now.