A Student Discovered Bacteria That Eats Pollution In Yellowstone

Breathing new life into the fight against climate change


(Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com)

After a 7-mile hike last August into the depths of Yellowstone National Park, Abdelrhman Mohamed made a startling discovery. The student from Washington State University traveled with a team of scientists in the search for life within the famously breathtaking geysers and hot springs.

Though many tourists stick to the park’s ‘well-paved’ paths, the team spent hours trekking through the more isolated parts of the Heart Lake Geyser Basin area, eventually discovering four untouched hot water pools. Before heading back, they left electrodes on the edge of the water, in the hopes that they would attract a special kind of bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity, and coax the creatures out of their hidden habitats.

When the team traveled back to the spot 32 days later, they saw that they were successful in attracting the bacteria they were after--the species that breathes electricity through the electrode’s solid carbon surface.

In collaboration Montana State University, the Washington State University researchers published a study that explained their findings to their peers. Mohamed explained that this was the first time this bacteria was found within such an extreme environment, like an alkaline hot spring with temperatures anywhere between 110-220 degrees Fahrenheit.

These creatures aren’t fascinating just because they can withstand such high temperatures though; they may provide a way for us to create a more sustainable planet and overall healthier environment by diminishing pollution and transforming harmful pollutants into less toxic fumes.  

Haluk Beyenal, a university professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering, who supervised the research explained that the bacteria could also generate electricity.

“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,” he said.

The researchers plan on continuing their study and work with the bacteria, hoping it will lead to new methods of fighting climate change and drastically decreasing the amount of pollution. By searching for answers in what is typically a spot that flies under-the-radar, the team managed to discover a potential, natural solution that will help us all take better care of our planet.

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