Usually, headlines like these are hype. But, it turns out that the potential is not only there but very likely to be developed in the near future. Bacteria have been used to breakdown radioactive waste, generate electricity, make oil. By the way, there was a section on bacteria curing cancer but that discussion is for another thread.


"Super Cells" that Eat Radiation, Generate Electricity & Cure Cancer -A Galaxy Classic

Neurons_and_glial_cells_2 We believe multi-cellular organization is where it's at, with our mesoderms and our Mercedes, but there are some super-powered single cells which are far more than meets the unaided eye. We might think their mightiest power is confining us to the bathroom after an ill-advised late night snack, but having only one cell to deal with means bacteria can adapt incredibly well - and a single mutation can give rise to powers that make Professor Xavier's wheelchair-accessible mansion look like a home for people who are good at minigolf. Here we look at five organisms that would be called the Super-Cells, if that name wasn't probably already taken by Michael Crichton.

1) Eat Radiation

Humans have only three responses responses to radioactive waste: pay someone else to take it away quickly, die, or develop superpowers. Unfortunately the last option has a vanishingly small success rate and the tragic side-effect of utterly destroying the victims fashion sense. Luckily a species of bacteria with the ability to consume uranium and other extremely antisocial wastes has been discovered by US scientists - and as a bonus, it's utterly impossible to make a crap movie adaptation of a bacteria.

Geobacter sulfurreducens has already been used at the Rifle Mills site to clear up a large amount of what the nuclear industry calls "oops!", and what us non-radioactive humans call "a goddamn nuclear contamination of groundwater and the Colorado river". Following on the brave scientific tradition of not only looking a gift horse in the mouth but sending it to the vet for a full set of dental X-rays, some scientists suggest the metal-munching microbe could form the basis for a bio-battery cell. Because when you've fed a superpowered organism nothing but nuclear waste for years, nothing can go wrong with then sticking it in a box and carrying it around with you.

2) Generate Electricity

For those who prefer not to expose living creatures to nuclear radiation (environmental activists, vets, those living in areas threatened by Godzilla), scientists at Penn State have played microbial matchmaker - pairing bacteria which can work together to consume cellulose and generate electricity. Such bio-electrical sources are gaining momentum as attempts to find non-petroleum based power sources: the cellulose-fuelled option is popular because of the large volumes available, either as waste from agriculture and food processing or harvested from renewable forests.

The production of energy from cellulose is a trick we've been trying to copy from termites for a while - though the idea of basing our energy economy on ravenous vermin would make Agent Smith shout "See! I was right!" Attempts to exactly replicate the mechanism used in insect stomachs have so far failed (and probably led to a few scientists wondering, in the dead of night, if this is what they really expected to be doing with their lives). Many research efforts are now directed at finding a more manageable version of the same process, of which this binary design is one of the more unique.

3) Make oil without the inconvenient "millions of years" thing

In more proof that the line between being retarded or a genius is often whether people tell you to shut up before you try something, a geneticist and a biologist asked "Why don't we just make more petrol?" Before anybody could explain that you'd need a Delorean with an extremely large trunk, and that people would get annoyed when you started stealing animals just to dump them in a hole the cretaceous period, George Church and Chris Somerville of San Carlos-based firm LS9 engineered a form of E. Coli which produces hydrocarbon chains with promising petrol potential.

This work provides an interesting environmentalist dilemma - on the one hand it could eliminate the need for oil drilling altogether, but it would also remove the current impetus to develop alternative energy sources that don't depend on the "burn stuff and don't breathe the smoke" strategy. Not to mention that a sentence involving "E.Coli", "petrol" and "genetically engineered" may well be enough to make an eco -activists head explode on the spot.