Bond and his colleagues added the marine iron oxidizer Mariprofundus ferrooxydans PV-1, along with some nutrient medium, to an electrode carefully tuned to provide electrons at the same energy level, or potential, as Fe(II) would provide. The idea, says Bond, was to "fool the bacteria into thinking they're at the world's best buffet of Fe(II) atoms."
It worked. The bacteria multiplied and formed a film on the electrode, Bond says, and eventually they were able to grow M. ferrooxydans with no iron in the medium, proof that the bacteria were living off the electrons they absorbed from the electrode to capture carbon dioxide and replicate. And since the electron donor is a solid surface, say the authors, it's pretty likely that the bacterial electron-harvesting machinery is exposed on the outer membrane of the cell.
It's this capture of carbon dioxide that could enable electrochemical cultivation to create biofuels or other useful products one day, Bond says.
"Bacteria are experts at the capture of carbon dioxide. They build cells and compounds" with the carbon, he says. They might one day be exploited as microscopic energy packagers: bacteria like M. ferrooxydans could capture electricity from an electrode, combine it with carbon dioxide, and package it as a carbon-rich compound we could use as fuel. This would take the energy in electricity, which is ephemeral, and convert it into a tangible product that could be stored in a tank. But that kind of work is a long way off, cautions Bond.
"If there are 100 steps to making this work this is step one," he says.
|Contact: Jim Sliwa|
American Society for Microbiology