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Researchers discover how microbes cooperate

Ever wonder what microorganisms do on a Saturday night? In professor Derek Lovley's lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, doctoral candidate Zarath Summers and her colleagues made a point to find out. In the process, Summers discovered a new cooperative behavior in bacteria.

"Interspecies electron transfer" entails one microorganism forming a direct electrical connection to another.

Scientists have known since the 1960s that microorganisms can indirectly exchange electrons through a process called hydrogen transfer, in which one microbe produces hydrogen and then another microbe consumes it. But this discovery takes hydrogen transfer and goes a step further. Rather than a baton pass of sorts, it is two species directly plugging into each other.

The microbes Summers and her colleagues are studying — Geobacter — are of particular interest because of their role in environmental restoration. For example, the organisms can destroy petroleum contaminants and remove radioactive metal from polluted groundwater.
 
 

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