Tiny bacteria living on the ocean floor produce electric currents that help them break down matter to generate energy.
Danish researchers discovered evidence of electricity in the seabed nearly three years ago, and have traced it back to bacteria that are only one centimeter (0.4 inches) long and 100 times thinner than a hair.
“Our experiments showed that the electric connections in the seabed must be solid structures built by bacteria,” said study co-author Christian Pfeffer at Aarhus University, in a press release.
Inside each of these bacteria is a bundle of insulated wires that can conduct a current from one end to the other.
“The incredible idea that these bacteria should be electric cables really fell into place when, inside the bacteria, we saw wire-like strings enclosed by a membrane,” said Nils Risgaard-Petersen, also at Aarhus University, in the release.
One square meter (about 10 square feet) in the anaerobic sediment of the seabed is home to more than tens of thousands of kilometers of these “cable bacteria.”
Although oxygen is lacking here, one end of the bacteria can obtain oxygen from seawater in the substrate surface.
This unusual biological phenomenon could be applied in new types of electronics.
The research was published in Nature on Oct. 25.
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