Bio-Batteries Could be Powered by Shewanella Bacteria

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Bio-Batteries Could be Powered by Shewanella Bacteria

Bio-Batteries Could be Powered by Shewanella Bacteria

What do a marine bacteria and your smartphone battery have in common? They both create electricity. A new study by Dr. Tom Clarke of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK shows that the bacterium Shewanella could be used in bio-batteries.  His study was conducted in tandem with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington and results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


What are Shewanella?

Shewanella are a type of bacterium that are present in most of the world’s lakes and streams. They are known for their metal processing abilities and have long been thought to produce electricity. Shewanella are the sole genus in the Shewanellaceae family and actually use electrons to expand and soften metal in their environment. Currently little is known about them, although much of the study involving Dr. Tom Clarke focused on learning more about them. For example, until his study, it was not known whether the bacterium produced the electricity, or the process produced it. Scientists first noticed the bacterium because levels of iron and magnesium where higher in lakes and streams during growing periods for Shewanella.

Shewanella are most frequently used in the study of nanotechnology where they are used for biosynthesis of metal. This is something that they do naturally at a molecular level, making the bacterium perfect for nano-applications as well.

Study of Shewanella

Dr. Clarke’s study of the Shewanella bacterium used artificial bacteria to synthesize the change in the metal. Through this method, it was discovered that Shewanella actually generate a charge of electricity which stimulates the metal to change. As a power producer, Shewanella are very tiny, but quite robust and suitable for ‘hostile environments’.  The strain used for synthesis was taken from a New York lake, although they are present in most waters worldwide, and in every climate.

“It’s very useful as a model system,” Said Dr. Clarke “They are very robust, we can be quite rough with then in the lab and they will put up with it.

His study can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also known as PNA’s.


Real World Applications

While the study of a bacterium present only in lakes and streams might not sound like it has a lot of benefit, the study shows that Shewanella can be artificially duplicated and used to human advantage. With the capability of producing electrical charges, they could in essence be used in ‘bio-batteries’ although these might take some years to work out and construct.

However, now that scientists understand how Shewanella work, they can work on harnessing their power to create useful things, including biological batteries. Knowing how the power source works, how the mechanism functions, and how to duplicate it could allow for more bio-friendly power sources in nearly any environment. Because the bacterium are biological and actually reduce poisoned heavy metals such as lead, iron, and hypothetically, uranium, it would also actually benefit rather than harm the environment, which is more than can be said for lead batteries used today.

Cultures of Shewanella and another bacterium ,known as Synechococcus have also been used to produce hydroelectric reactions, which could also be useful in the future development of this resource.

While the idea of a biological powered battery is exciting for the future of technology, it will unfortunately take some time. New studies require experimentation, failsafes, and multiple tests, which means that it could be years before we see any practical technology resulting from the study.

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Proliferate writer, sesquipedalian, techie, Apple fangirl (don’t judge),tree hugger, yogi, tea drinker, zombie hunter. Into philotherianism & philomathy. Love my job. Visit me on Google +

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