Microbes that can live on electricity
Previously, only two types of autotrophs (organisms that can produce nutrients from simple inorganic substances, such as carbon dioxide) were known: those that use light as the energy source (phototrophs) and those that use chemical substances (chemotrophs). Now, scientists in Japan have identified a third type – microbes that can utilize electricity, or electrotrophs. These microbes were discovered in the deep sea, where no sunlight can reach. The organisms use electricity generated by the hydrothermal vents and current-conducting rocks. The newly identified electrotrophs were able to amplify weak currents and survive on electricity. The scientists hope that their findings can help with further investigations of deep-sea ecosystems and also provide insight into harvesting micro-electric energy from the microbes.
The research paper:
From chemolithoautotrophs to electrolithoautotrophs: CO2 fixation by Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria coupled with direct uptake of electrons from solid electron sources
Frontiers in Microbiology (2015)
Check out the press release for more information:
(Note: The press release is only available in Japanese as I post this, but English translation should be coming up sometime soon…)