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Researchers Identify Caffeine-Consuming Bacterium

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As it turns out, humans aren't the only organisms that turn to caffeine for a pick-me-up. University of Iowa scientists have identified four different bacteria that actually can live on caffeine.

One of them, known as Pseudomonas putida CBB5, was found in a flowerbed outside a UI research laboratory. The research team says the discovery -- and the new understanding of how the process works -- could in the future allow scientists to convert waste from leftover coffee, tea and even chocolate into useful substances, like pharmaceuticals, animal feed or biofuels.

Previous studies have also discovered caffeine-degrading bacteria, but the UI team took the research one step further. They identified the gene sequence that enables the bacterium to break down the caffeine compound in nature.

Caffeine is found naturally in more than 60 different plants and is composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Its molecular structure features three clusters of carbon and hydrogen atoms known as methyl groups, enabling caffeine to resist degradation by most bacteria.

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