Bacteria can use minerals in soil as electrical grids, which helps the microbes generate chemicals they need to survive, a new study says.
The process involves different bacterial species trading electrons—negatively charged subatomic particles.
Electrons are key to all life-forms, from microbes to people. For instance, the human body constantly swaps electrons from one compound to another to help assemble and dismantle vital chemicals, such as natural sugars.
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Scientists had known that different species of microorganisms can work together by trading electrons, helping each species process food sources they couldn't otherwise digest easily.
These cooperative interactions were known to happen either via direct contact or by piggybacking electrons on molecules spread through the microbes' surroundings.
But the new work is the first to show that microbes can use conductive minerals as "wires" for boosting their electrical transfers.