How special bacteria turn wastewater into electricity

Bottles containing the electricity-producing E. coli. Photo credit: Jamani Caillet (EPFL)

Imagine turning wastewater into electricity! Sounds like science fiction, right?

But scientists at EPFL (a fancy science school in Switzerland) have done just that.

They used a well-known bacteria called E. coli and tweaked it to make a tiny power generator.

What have you done?

Usually, E. coli is known as the bacteria that can sometimes make us sick. But it is also a favorite for scientific studies.

Scientists at EPFL have modified their DNA so that it is ideal for generating electricity.

They took special parts of another bacterium known for generating electricity and inserted them into E. coli. The result was astonishing – these new E. coli could generate three times more electricity than older methods!

How does it work?

When we say “generate electricity,” we mean a process called extracellular electron transfer, or EET for short.

To put it simply: When the bacteria eat waste, they emit tiny particles called electrons.

These electrons create an electrical current that can be converted into electricity. This is a clean and environmentally friendly way to treat waste and generate electricity.

Why is it special?

What’s really cool is that these modified E. coli can work almost anywhere. Some other bacteria that generate electricity require special chemicals to do their work.

But this E. coli doesn’t do that! It’s like a superhero bacteria that can convert many types of waste into electricity.

For example, scientists tested these new E. coli in wastewater from a beer factory. The bacteria were very happy and produced a lot of electricity, while other species didn’t even survive. This means we could use them in many different places to treat waste and generate electricity at the same time.

Aside from waste disposal, this new E. coli could also be used for other cool things. They can be part of “microbial fuel cells,” which are like tiny power plants.

They could also help create chemicals or even help detect things like pollution. The best part is that we can change their DNA to make them work better for certain tasks.

Scientists are very excited about what comes next. They believe that these bacteria could really change the way we deal with waste and generate electricity in the future. As we look for more environmentally friendly options, this discovery could be a game-changer.

So next time you think about waste or bacteria, remember: they’re not always bad. In fact, they could be our future mini power plants!

The article was published in the magazine joules.

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Source: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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