Uranium-eating bacteria have semiconductor hair.

Helpful uranium-munching bacteria breathe it through electric wires

Bacteria have long been fighting on the front lines of uranium-contaminated groundwater. Their ability to take uranium out of a solution and mineralize it has proven invaluable at abandoned uranium mines. The mechanism by which they accomplish this fortunate feat has remained a mystery--until now. [...]

So, do these bacteria produce an enzyme that helps them process uranium in this way, or is there something else going on? That's been the question for some time now. A group of microbiologists suspected that pili--tiny, thread-like appendages on the surface of many bacteria--might have something to do with it. [...]

The second study discovered that the pili of that same Geobacter species are electrically conductive. In fact, they are just as conductive as metallic nanowires. As if the first example of metal-like conductivity in a biological structure wasn't enough, the researchers were even able to get films of these bacteria to function as transistors.

Previously, previously.


6 Responses:

  1. Paging Dr. Moore... Dr. Gordon E. Moore...

  2. Amoebius says:

    I wonder, how you find bacteria with useful abilities like these.

    "Hey let's irradiate this bacterium and see, what happens!"
    "Oh, nothing"
    - 1327 experiments later...
    "Oh wow, it absorbs!
    "Science has been done."

    • jwz says:

      I'm pretty sure you find them by going, "WTF? This should be more radioactive than it is." Then you notice something eating that shit.

      • Tkil says:

        This should be more radioactive than it is.

        Hm. Wouldn't the radioactivity be the same, since the critter is "eating" at a chemical level, not at an atomic (nucleus) level?

        Unless you're talking about the radioactivity of the solution; from reading the blurb you quoted, the solution would indeed be less radioactive -- but there'd be a corresponding increase in activity in the precipitate. (Which is a net win, as the latter is much easier to deal with...)

        Anyway. Science Rocks, etc.

        (Also -- <q> not supported/allowed? But <blink> is? *boggle*)

    • hattifattener says:

      You laugh but that's how a lot of genetic research is done. Sometimes they use chemical or viral mutagens instead of radiation. eg, eg, eg.

    • mentallill says:

      Well, this particular one we found because it's part of a family of metal-reducing bacteria that are geologically significant, in producing (maybe, if I'm reading this right) magnetite deposits in anaerobically-deposited sediments, which showed up because, hey, magnetic.

      We pretty much found it with a compass. It's a little like opening your window and studying the first plant you can rip a leaf off of, rather than, say, travelling to the Amazon first. And this one turned out to be quite interesting, but really there's no reason to believe all the others wouldn't be interesting, too, if we had enough grad students to throw at them.

      Actually searching for bacteria that might deal with harmful pollutants (uranium isn't very radioactive but is quite common, but chromium might be a more obvious candidate) rather than just stumbling upon them might be a good idea, but it's not what we're doing, yet, probably also for lack of grad students.

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