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The Future of Batteries? Scientists Discover Bacteria that Live on Electricity

Bacteria have been discovered that feed on a variety of bizarre sources, including hydrocarbons from oil spills. But the latest finding—bacteria that eat and breathe pure energy in the form of electrons—is particularly strange and exciting. Two types of the “electric bacteria,” Shewanella and Geobacter, have already been identified, and scientists say they are surprisingly common. Though all life is based on the flow of electrons, other organisms must consume electron-rich sugars and breath electron-depleted oxygen to produce this exchange. These bacteria, however, harvest electrons directly from rocks and metals, cutting out the sugar and oxygen middlemen. Scientists believe we can use the bacteria to help clean up sewage and contaminated water. One type of “electric bacteria” (seen in the animation above) even has filaments that can carry the electric charge, similar to how a charge is carried by a wire. In other words, a “live wire” could be created to conduct electrons across a distance by linking up the bacteria. The discovery raises the hope that we might one day derive our energy through a symbiotic relationship with nature rather than an extractive one.