According to UN-Water, urbanization is, amongst others, a reason why the world risks to face a water quality crisis at the beginning of the 21st century. This is getting more urgent as more and more people flock to cities every year. The urban populations is projected to nearly double within the next 40 years. Furthermore, surface water run-off from paved areas in urbanized areas is a major problem for a number of reasons. For example, enormous amounts of contaminated rainwater, which have cleaned the smoggy air as well as roads and sidewalks, are waiting to get treated. The pollution load from urban surface water, especially in developing countries, shouldn’t be underestimated. Maybe bacteria and microorganisms can come up with solutions?
Many types of bacteria and other microorganisms are self-healing as well as reaction-specific nanoreactors that are found nearly everywhere in the world. The result of this is that the composition of toxic or contaminated water varies from one place to another. Increasing the level of metabolic function of naturally dominant bacteria helps in breaking down the contaminant quantity in water. When these bacterial species are used to generate electrical energy, there comes an effective way of cleaning water. These bacterial species are rendered to be electricity generating bacteria and have the potential to make wastewater drinkable one day.
Researchers from Bazan Research Group at UC Santa Barbara developed chemically modified bacteria named Shewanella oneidensis by using iron as well as other minerals which will produce energy being a part of its metabolism. This bacteriological fuel cell makes use of proteins that conduct current within its cell membrane for exhalation. According to the co-author of the story, this electricity generating bacteria will provide an opportunity to study the behavior of microbial species in a new way.
The researchers have also developed a synthetic molecule which is named DSFO+ and holds properties to modify cell membranes. The molecule includes iron and has the ability to conduct electrons. Scientists also explain that Shewanella is a chemically-modified bacterium and all its effects are for temporary time duration. Every time this bacterium multiplies, DSFO+ will start to dilute getting back to its original state.
Alongside being an electricity generating bacteria, the DSFO+ also serves to be a power adapter which not only has the capacity to generate electricity. It is also using the molecule for replacing the function of proteins that occur naturally in mutant bacteria. Increase in this level result in a behavior change of microbial systems. These systems can be very useful in future for treating wastewater.
How will the metabolism react if a drug is injected
This organism modification is mostly done through genetic engineering, however; the resultant microns cannot be released in the environment. Moreover, this approach is also quite challenging to implement in the practical scenario. The microbe is chemically modified for a specified period of time. When the microbe starts to multiply, the synthetic molecule dilutes bringing back the entire system back to its original position. This property allows this molecule to be used in wastewater treatment in such a way which would not have been possible with their genetically reformed counterparts.
According to Bazan, the idea behind electricity generating bacteria is to remove electrons which can be done very easily. However, the aim is to determine what will happen if electrons are provided to carry chemical reactions, whether the health of microorganisms can be monitored through electronic signatures, how will the metabolism react if a drug is injected into it, how will it breathe if the microbe is stressed, whether microorganisms exist within a community and if they do, can they send signals to each other and whether those signals can be traced and understood are the major areas that have opened a new pave for future researches.