Diet metal bacteria found in dirty dishes

These are the first bacteria to use manganese as a fuel source, scientists said. Astonishing

An aspect of microbes in nature is that they can metabolize seemingly unlikely materials such as metals, providing energy that is beneficial to the cell.

Research on newly discovered bacteriaalso shows that they can use manganese to convert carbon dioxide into biomass. This process is called chemosynthesis. Previously, researchers knew about bacteria and fungi that can oxidize manganese or strip it of electrons. But they only speculated that as yet unidentified microbes could use this process to stimulate growth.

Dr. Leadbetter, Professor of MicrobiologyEnvironment at California Institute of Technology, discovered the bacteria by sheer luck after performing unrelated experiments using a light, chalk-like form of manganese. He left a glass jar contaminated with the substance to soak up tap water at his office in Caltech. Then the scientist was busy with another project for several months off campus. When he returned, the jar was covered in dark material.

The black coating was actually oxidizedmanganese, formed by newly formed bacteria, which probably originated from the tap water itself. There is evidence that relatives of these creatures live in underground waters.

Manganese is one of the most commonelements on the surface of the earth. Manganese oxides take the form of a dark lumpy substance and are common in nature. They have been found in underground sediments and can also form in water distribution systems.

There are a number of engineering literatureecology on drinking water distribution systems clogged with manganese oxides. But how and for what reason such material is generated remains a mystery. Obviously, many scientists believe that bacteria that use manganese for energy may be responsible for this process, but there is still no evidence to support this idea.

Dr. Leadbetter, Professor of Environmental Microbiology at Caltech

New discovery helps researchers betterunderstand the geochemistry of groundwater. It is known that bacteria can decompose pollutants in groundwater, a process called bioremediation. In doing so, several key organisms "restore" manganese oxide. This means that they donate electrons to it, similar to how humans use oxygen from the air. Scientists are wondering where manganese oxide comes from.

The detected bacteria can produce it. Their lifestyle also serves to supply other microbes with what they need to carry out "beneficial and desirable" reactions, Dr. Leadbetter said.

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