Microbe Power by Christina Kellogg

One of the challenges of doing research in the deep-sea is the expense of getting down there and staying down there long enough (i.e., needing ships, ROVs, and submersibles). One way around that is to leave sensors on the bottom to collect data even when nobody is around. However, then you run into a power supply problem–can’t exactly run out and change the batteries every couple of weeks. The solution? Microbial fuel cells. Clare Reimer’s group at OSU have been working on seafloor fuel cells that exploit the naturally-occurring bacteria and geochemistry to generate power for deep-sea sensors. However, like graduate students, microbes work best when bribed with food…and deep-sea sediments can be poorly stocked with organic matter, limiting how long the stationary fuel cells could function. Bruce Logan from Penn State has recently done some experiments where the fuel cell anode was padded with nutritious bacterial munchies to encourage the microbial workforce. What is the deep-sea microbial equivalent of Doritos? Chitin. Since chitin is common to the deep-sea in the form of crustacean shells, there are lots of naturally-occurring bacteria capable of digesting it. Experiments revealed that chitin was more effective than cellulose as a ‘booster’ for microbial batteries. In your face, Energizer Bunny!

Seafloor fuel cell: Clare Reimers

Image credits:Bacteria in power plant: Science News

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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