Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Alive Wires

In her 2015 Ted Talk The Seafloor is Electric, Laurine Burdorf is speaking about bacteria. Specifically, bacteria that feed on electrons, sending current thru a network of ‘wires’ they grow among themselves. Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) are an application of this phenomenon and have undergone a surge in research over the past several years, particularly for their potential role as an alternative energy source. MFCs can already power small electronics, and the variety of suitable microbial ‘power’ strains continue to be discovered all around the world, abundantly, but not exclusively, in dirt, sludge, and mud – hence the seafloor. Although research is ongoing, something these environments share in common is that they are oxygen challenged. One theory is that bacteria adapt to oxygen starved environments by eating electrons then putting out ‘feelers’ to eventually reach bacteria closer to an oxygen source so the electrons can be ‘exhaled’ to continue the energy cycle. A recent trend in the research is investigating whether some bacterial strains can actually sustain viability indefinitely simply by inhaling and exhaling electrons between two electrodes

I recently received and imaged bacilli in a soil sample that had been exposed to an unknown challenge, stained for viability, and then mounted in agar on a microscopy slide. Although not in an electric state, the procedure for imaging and quantitating these bacilli can be universally applied to other strains, and the BioTek Lionheart LX Automated Microscope I used is also amenable to live cell imaging and compatible with a variety of standard and custom vessels such as microchannel substrates. Images were acquired with a 20X objective in both the brightfield and fluorescence channels. A GFP filter cube detected the Syto 9 nucleic acid stain (green), and a PI filter cube detected Propidium Iodide staining for viability (red). Instrument control and analysis was done using BioTek Gen5 Image Prime software. Results were as expected by the scientist that sent the sample.

Quantiative Microscopy Bacilli in soil samples


The basic principles of electric bacteria are available for anyone to learn more about, even using your own dirt. For example, if you are looking for something to do with your kids or grandkids on a rainy vacation day try the MudWatt® Microbe Kit. The more ambitious can build a MFC from your own parts DIY Microbial Fuel Cell - Easy. You can read more and watch a cool video using the link Meet the Electric Life Forms that Live on Pure Energy, a source for some of the information in this blog. If you are a using a BioTek imager in the field of microbiology connect with our Imaging & Microscopy Discussion Group on our Customer Resource Center, and if you don’t have a BioTek Imager, ‘dig in’ and try one!

By: BioTek Instruments, Wendy Goodrich, Applications Scientist

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