Harvesting the hot-water bacteria that “eat and breathe” electricity.

Science Daily shouts about a Washington State University team that headed out to the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone to cultivate a relationship with bacteria that might be able to gobble up pollution while giving off electric power:

After 32 days, the team returned to the hot springs to collect the submerged electrodes. Working under the supervision of Haluk Beyenal, Paul Hohenschuh Distinguished Professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, Mohamed and postdoctoral researcher Phuc Ha analyzed the electrodes.

Voila! They had succeeded in capturing their prey — heat-loving bacteria that “breathe” electricity through the solid carbon surface of the electrodes.

The WSU team, in collaboration with colleagues from Montana State University, published their research detailing the multiple bacterial communities they found in the Journal of Power Sources.

“This was the first time such bacteria were collected in situ in an extreme environment like an alkaline hot spring,” said Mohamed, adding that temperatures in the springs ranged from about 110 to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Such bacteria can “eat” pollution by converting toxic pollutants into less harmful substances and generating electricity in the process.

“As these bacteria pass their electrons into metals or other solid surfaces, they can produce a stream of electricity that can be used for low-power applications,” said Beyenal.

Most living organisms — including humans — use electrons, which are tiny negatively-charged particles, in a complex chain of chemical reactions to power their bodies. Every organism needs a source of electrons and a place to dump the electrons to live. While we humans get our electrons from sugars in the food we eat and pass them into the oxygen we breathe through our lungs, several types of bacteria dump their electrons to outside metals or minerals, using protruding hair-like wires.