PASADENA, CA – Scientists in California have discovered a new type of bacteria that eats metal.
Dr. Jared Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology at Caltech in Pasadena, left a glass jar covered with the substance to soak in tap water in his office sink for several months when he went to work off-campus. When he returned, Leadbetter found the jar coated with a dark material.
“I thought, ‘What is that?'” Leadbetter said. “I started to wonder if long-sought-after microbes might be responsible, so we systematically performed tests to figure that out.”
It was found to be oxidized manganese, which had been generated by the newly discovered bacteria found in tap water, according to CNN.
“These are the first bacteria found to use manganese as their source of fuel,” Leadbetter said in the release. “A wonderful aspect of microbes in nature is that they can metabolize seemingly unlikely materials, like metals, yielding energy useful to the cell.”
The new research also reveals that the bacteria can use manganese for a process called chemosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide into biomass.
Researchers had speculated that unidentified microbes could harness the process to spur growth but only knew of bacteria and fungi that could do so, according to CNN.
The research was published in the journal Nature.