Electricity-generating Bacteria Found In Human Gut

Posted: Sep 13 2018, 3:28am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Electricity-generating Bacteria Found in Human Digestive System
Credit: UC Berkeley

Listeria bacteria produces electricity using an entirely different technique from known electrogenic bacteria.

Bacteria that produce electricity usually exist in extreme environments like mines and bottoms of the lakes. But researchers from UC Berkeley have found certain electric bacteria in the last place they expected: the human gut.

Listeria monocytogenes is a food-borne pathogen that causes listeriosis, a serious disease for individuals with weak immune systems. Researchers have found that this common bacterium produces electricity using an entirely different technique from other known electrogenic bacteria.

Hundreds of other sparking bacteria are part of human gut microbiome. Some of them are probiotics and good for digestive system. Lactobacilli like bacteria that are involved in yogurt fermentation also generate electricity.

“The fact that so many bugs that interact with humans, either as pathogens or in probiotics or in our microbiota or involved in fermentation of human products are electrogenic – that had been missed before,” said Dan Portnoy, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology. “It could tell us a lot about how these bacteria infect us or help us have a healthy gut.”

Bacteria are highly evolved organisms as they have developed remarkable ways to transfer electrons from the interior of the cell. In electricity-generating bacteria, the process is similar to the way humans use oxygen to breathe. Bacteria generate electricity to remove electrons during metabolism and boost energy production. Researchers used an electrode to measure the electric current that streams from the bacteria and found that they make electricity some 100,000 electrons per second per cell.

The ability of bacteria to transfer electrons requires a cascade of special chemical reactions. The process, called extracellular electron transfer chain, carries the electrons as a tiny electrical current. The newly discovered system in electric bacteria is actually simpler than the already known one and seems to be used by them only when oxygen levels are low.

Lead author of study Sam Light says. “This is a whole big part of the physiology of bacteria that people didn't realize existed, and that could be potentially manipulated.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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