Scientist Discovers New Metal-Eating Bacteria in an Unusual Place: His Sink
by Jazmin Becerril Gonzalez, age 13
Bacteria are perhaps the earliest form of life on Earth and can be found everywhere. Earlier this year, scientists accidentally discovered something pretty crazy: a metal eating bacteria that they had suspected existed for decades but were unable to identify.
Dr. Jared Leadbetter, a microbiologist at California Institute of Technology, discovered the bacteria after leaving a glass jar covered with chemicals used in other experiments to soak in tap water in his office sink. When he returned after several months, he found a dark material covering the jar. At this point, he and his team conducted experiments trying to figure out what caused this chemical reaction. They concluded that the dark material was oxidized manganese caused by newly discovered bacteria which probably exists in tap water.
What makes this bacterium so unique is that it feeds and survives off metal by converting carbon dioxide into biomass in a process called chemosynthesis. Since the bacterium is found in tap water, scientists theorize that a chemical reaction between manganese oxides and the bacterium is responsible for clogging the water system pipes with manganese. Scientists are hoping this knowledge about the chemical reaction between the manganese oxides and bacteria will help solve the problem of clogged pipes. Researchers also want to use this discovery to further understand manganese nodules, metallic balls that contain rare metals found on the seafloor.
Woodward Fischer, a geobiologist at Caltech not involved in the study, said, “This discovery from Jared and Hang [Yu] fills a major intellectual gap in our understanding of Earth’s elemental cycles, and adds to the diverse ways in which manganese, an abstruse [poorly understood] but common transition metal, has shaped the evolution of life on our planet.”
[Source: Madison.com, Associated Press]