• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Multi-talented Bacteria

Air Date: Week of June 17, 2005

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on pollution-fighting bacteria that can also generate electricity.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the hunt for a tiger that's not really a tiger, and may not even exist anymore. First this note on emerging science from Jennifer Chu.

[EMERGING SCIENCE THEME MUSIC]

CHU: Think bacteria and you probably think malicious agents of disease. But researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina say think again. They’ve found a bacterium capable of cleaning up pollution and generating electricity at the same time. The bacterium is commonly found in freshwater ponds, and scientists say it’s not the first time bacteria has been identified as a power source.

But what makes this microorganism special is its ability to deactivate some of the most toxic groundwater pollutants, including industrial solvents used in plastic production, by de-chlorinating them. These are also the first known electricity-producers that form spores, dormant bacteria which need no water or oxygen and are resistant to heat and radiation. That makes them useful in the noxious environments where pollutants are often found. And that’s not all. These bacteria can also cause some heavy metals found in water to precipitate back into solid form, making them easier to remove.

The researchers envision a day when bacteria will be used to efficiently treat wastewater while generating power. But don’t cancel your electric service just yet; right now the bacteria produce relatively small amounts of electricity. It would take trillions of bacteria to power a 60-watt light bulb. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Jennifer Chu.

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.