MICRO ORGANISMS can transform organic matter, commonly found at the bottom of the ocean, into electrical energy, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts.
The experiments, published in the journal Science by University of Massachusetts microbiologists Derek Lovley and Daniel Bond, were carried out using water and sediment from Boston Harbour, a collection of mason jars, ordinary electrical wiring and graphite electrodes.
The researchers added a layer of common mud to water in the jars, put one graphite electrode in the mud and another in overlying water.The resulting electrical current was strong enough to activate a light bulb.
An understanding of how microbes generate and use electricity could prompt development of new technologies to decontaminate polluted water and sediment containing organic materials, including petroleum and other aromatic hydrocarbons, said Lovley.
The group found that a family of energy-harvesting micro organisms, commonly referred to as geobacters, were key to the production of the electrical current.
Whereas most life forms get their energy from by oxidising organic compounds with oxygen, geobacters can grow in environments lacking oxygen by using the iron, naturally present in soil, in the place of oxygen.
Lovley said the research demonstrated that geobacters could also substitute an unnatural substance, such as an electrode, for the iron.
'In mud, a community of micro organisms cooperate to break down larger, more complex organic compounds to acetate. Geobacters then transfer the electrons from the acetate to the electrode, generating the electrical energy, ' he said.