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Biotech Science

Bacteria Used to Create Nanowires 188

Posted by timothy
from the high-tech-beekeeping dept.
FnH writes "Derek Lovley and his colleagues of the University of Massachusetts discovered that the Geobacter bacteria is capable of producing nanowires. The bacteria is normally used to clean up toxic waste. Geobacter does not use oxygen, but metal as its source for power. This probably explains the 3nm to 5nm nanowires it excretes while working. What metal the nanowires are made of is not yet known, but the genetic code responsible for their creation is. This opens up the possibility of modifying the bacteria to create nanowires on chips."
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Bacteria Used to Create Nanowires

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  • Dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by SlashEdsDoYourJobs (905360) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:25AM (#13277239) Homepage

    Dupe [slashdot.org].

  • by ReformedExCon (897248) <reformed.excon@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:26AM (#13277243)
    According to the article, the bacteria seem to produce these tiny wires which then carry electrical signals across large meshes of bacteria-produced wires. It would be interesting to see what sort of emergent behavior, if any, would arise from very large meshes of these wires and bacteria.
    • by k98sven (324383) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:51AM (#13277333) Journal
      No, they don't carry signals. (What signals would there be to carry?)

      The reduction of metal (iron) in a geobacter metallireducens bacteria functions as little more than an electron sink for getting rid of electrons at the end of the respiratory chain.

      Fe3+ (metal ion from the environment) + 3 e- --> Fe (metal)

      There are other bacteria which turn nitrate into nitrogen and sulphur into H2S (smelly bastards!), among others.

      We humans (and our relatives) do this using oxygen:
      O2 (oxygen from the environment) + 4 e- + 4H+ --> 2 H2O (water)

      There's nothing particularily surprizing about the fact that it produces metal. Nor is it terribly surprizing that the metal comes out as a long strand. Respiration is a rather continuous process, after all!

      So no signalling. (And what could they possibly signal anyway?) But that doesn't mean there couldn't be benefits for the bacteria to have its metal threads connected. It might help ground any excess negative charge on the resulting metal, aiding the respiration process.
      • Thank you for the expanded information.

        The original basis for my post was this quote:

        quote
        Patrinos said the bacteria may organize to form minipower grids in the soil by linking up via the nanowires. /quote
      • by cnelzie (451984) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @08:06AM (#13277646) Homepage
        ...the post you were responding to is.

            "It would be just like that one Star Trek Episode where Wesley was doing this experiment with Nanobots that networked together and formed a rudimentary, then more evolved Artificial Intelligence. They like took over Lt. Cmdr. Data and then took over the ship and all they wanted was a chance to have a place of their own, that they could turn into grey ooze." ...or...

            "It could be just like that one Star Trek Episode where there was this terraforming project going on at this lifeless rock and the Enterprise was sent to investigate some terrible disasters that were happening there. It turns out that there were this mircoscopic silicone based lifeforms living in the sands on this planet and they were like, getting killed by the terraforming process. Anyway, the leader of the terraforming colony knew what was going on, he just didn't want to admit that he was killing little silicone sand creatures. The silicone sand creatures networked together and started being all bad-ass as they increased in capability and inteligent as they joined together, kinda like the Constructicons from The Transformers television series, that was cool, you know? So, anyway, these bacteria might be doing the same thing!"

            Anyway, I have to blame Star Trek. While the series has been known to inspire tons of people to do great things, it's pseudo-science has done some harm as people assume that what happens in a Science Fantasy show can happen in real life.

            No hatin' to the original poster, btw. I am just saying.
      • On the vein of the "imagine a beowulf cluster of these" - I reckon that were we to master this technology, we would someday have bacteria that can excrete carbon nanotubes, or perhaps even Hydrogen gas (for our Hydrogen fuel-cell-powered automobiles).
        • we would someday have bacteria that can excrete carbon nanotube

          Well, I think finding any decent catalyst for nanotubes would be a huge breakthrough. The way they're made today is basically by blasting carbon (creating a whole bunch of different crap) and sorting out the bits you want. Not very efficient or controlled.

          or perhaps even Hydrogen gas

          There are already bacteria who produce hydrogen gas. Current research is already trying to do stuff with this. For instance, the EU is funding a project to try and c
    • Actually, you just made that up. Way to read what isn't there. This qoute might have been the foundation for your extrapolation:

      The ability of the bacteria to link their nanowires has been observed in Lovley's lab. The hairlike wires emanating from the bacteria had been seen previously, but their conducting function was discovered via atomic-force microscope techniques.

      Or perhaps this:

      Patrinos said the bacteria may organize to form minipower grids in the soil by linking up via the nanowires.

      I

      • I admit I did take some license with the quotes you mentioned. Namely, I tried to understand what it meant.

        If the first one says that bacteria (plural) "link their nanowires", and the second quote says that they "may...form minipower grid(s)", then yes, I would extrapolate that they are talking about interconnected meshes of these wires which carry "power".

        Which, if you take a look at my original post (I'll quote it for you)

        quote
        the bacteria seem to produce these tiny wires which then carry electrical sign
        • However, to say that I made it up is a gross mischaracterization and misreading of my post.

          Yes, I'd have to agree. I didn't mean it as a slight. This article is rather vague and offers little insight as to what has actually been discovered and what its significance is. Coming to an inaccurate conclusion as a result of trying to parse it is understandable.
  • oxigen? (Score:1, Informative)

    Derek Lovley and his colleagues of the University of Massachusetts discovered that the Geobacter bacteria is capable of producing nanowires. The bacteria is normally used to clean up toxic waste. Geobacter does not use oxigen, but metal as it's source for power. This probably explains the 3nm to 5nm nanowires it excretes while working. What metal the nanowires are made of is not yet known, but the genetic code responsible for their creation is. This opens up the possibility of modifying the bacteria to crea
    • Re:oxigen? (Score:1, Informative)

      by gkuz (706134)
      as it's source for power

      Never use spell check, and never learn elementary-school English grammar, either.

      • Oh come on, really, who cares.
        If you insist on being a grammar Nazi at least get it right before complaining about it.

        It's is short for "it is" or "it has" (e.g. "It's a very hot Summer day.").
        Its is a possesive form of it, and is used when referring to something already mentioned (e.g. "The hot Summer day has lost its heat.").

        Now RFTA and quit complaining.
    • Especially since Safari has a spellchecker for forms built in.

      Firefox has a form spellchecker via a plugin.
  • Crystal Ball Hackery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CleverNickedName (644160) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:33AM (#13277264) Journal
    This opens up the possibility of modifying the bacteria to create nanowires on chips.

    In the same was as it opens up the possibility of modifying the bacteria to code Linux kernel patches.
    This certainly is cool biotech, but slapping this wild prediction on to the end of the article doesn't make it more so.
    • In the same was as it opens up the possibility of modifying the bacteria to code Linux kernel patches. This certainly is cool biotech, but slapping this wild prediction on to the end of the article doesn't make it more so.

      Indeed. It seems to me that you have a better chance to let these bacteria poop the complete works of Shakespeare than to let them poop computer chips.

      Creating the poop is not the problem. Organising the poop is. A lion tamer is better equipped to tackle that problem than a poop scient

      • Rofl, how mallable are these wires? Perhaps (they've gotta be really weak right?) if they're strong enough they can just yank the wire out of the end of the lil pooper and put it where they want with something else.
      • I suspect that if you painted the chips with resist, exposed the resist and washed the unexposed resist away, then coated them with something the little guys liked to eat, they'd poop out the nanowires where you wanted them. I'm not sure if this would be paractical for anything, but everybody is gogga over anything with nano as a prefix anymore, so it would get you some research grants.

    • Now, if we could just get them to crap out fibre optic cable, we'd be set.
    • This certainly is cool biotech, but slapping this wild prediction on to the end of the article doesn't make it more so.

      Yes, and no. Yes, it seems terribly far-fetched to start growing bacteria on chips just so they can excrete random nanowires, but OTOH, a great deal of what we might refer to as classic science fiction - Verne, Wells, etc. was also far-fetched at the time it was written. A fair quantity of what Wells wrote hasn't even come true yet, but it catalyzed exploration, or at least the more cons

    • by Otter (3800)
      I dunno -- certainly by the standards of wild speculation customarily appended to science stories here it's not that far-fetched. You modify the bacteria to follow some stimulus that can be applied with higher resolution than can currently be achieved with traces (light, maybe?) and let them lay down wiring.

      It's no more improbable than most of the "Possible Cure For Cancer!" stuff we see here, probably on the order of modifying "Yuo have teh source code so fix it yuorself!!!" Lunix fanboys to code kernel p

      • You modify the bacteria to follow some stimulus that can be applied with higher resolution than can currently be achieved with traces (light, maybe?) and let them lay down wiring.

        An etching process to guide the bacteria would have to shine a smaller beam than the trace, but not too small. That would be interesting research. Anyway, the wavelength would have to be (maybe) 30nm for current work, which is pushing into the x-ray band. I'm not sure the little critters would respond very well if the beam


  • Interesting read...the first thing that came to my mind when I read this is that these organic wires may be just the thing for the interface between electronics and organic tisue. One of the major problems in cybernetics is that the chemistry of the implants tends to be poisonous to the surrounding tissue, while the chemistry of the surrounding tisue tends to be corrosive to the implant. Over time, the interface degrades and must eventually be replaced. Utilizing the genetic code from these microbes to expr
  • For once (Score:3, Funny)

    by malkavian (9512) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:34AM (#13277270) Homepage
    people would be quite correct in saying that the wiring inside their device was crap!
  • Oh, crap (Score:5, Funny)

    by KiloByte (825081) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:34AM (#13277271)
    This probably explains the 3nm to 5nm nanowires it excretes while working.
    So... the next generation of electronics is going to be made of shit?
  • Does this mean we're closer to produce a green CPU? If you think so, can we really call it green if its full of bacterias?
  • were crap...
    • Eww, my chip has some greenish fungus on it.

      Grep microscope (really strong one)

      O no, no worry, it is some nanowiring expension set.
  • Reminds me of the scene from "Little Nicky" where the dog pisses off an arrow (??)

    ooooooooh.........that was a painful thought !!
  • by La Gris (531858) <lea.grisNO@SPAMnoiraude.net> on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:45AM (#13277312) Homepage
    Anyone else think of roten metals ?

    Geobacter does not use oxigen, but metal as it's source for power

    Now, our cars will not only rust in winter because of salted snow, but they may rot eaten by Geobacter. ;)

    More seriously:
    Could this bacteria be genetically engineered to eat common metals like steel, or more uncommon ones targeted at destroying military or sabotage foundrys?

    Is another bio weapon on the way?
    • "Could this bacteria be genetically engineered to eat common metals like steel, or more uncommon ones targeted at destroying military or sabotage foundrys?"

      I don't mean to strap on the pedantipants right off the bat, but that's a silly notion. If you'd read the article, you'd know that it's using the metals not used as an energy source, but as an electron acceptor for respiration. So no, it couldn't "eat" steel, but it might change it into something different. (most metals have many different transitio

      • "So no, it couldn't "eat" steel, but it might change it into something different. "

        Well that's reassuring, so it will only transform my car into a pile of goo ?
      • It's not a silly notion.

        They're talking about them being rust monsters. And that could seriously weaken any structure.

        A high level fly over that sprays bacteria on a steel structure. Two months later, shoot holes in it using a bb gun.

        It's not that unreasonable. Now, we'll have to start putting antibacterial compounds on our metal buildings/ships/guns/etc.
        • They're talking about them being rust monsters. And that could seriously weaken any structure. A high level fly over that sprays bacteria on a steel structure. Two months later, shoot holes in it using a bb gun

          from followng a few links [nih.gov]: geobacter is anaerobic; it can tolerate a low level of oxygen, but basically lives in underground water with very low oxygen concentration. So spraying it not the air will kill it. Also, if I understand the chemistry (quite likely I haven't), it consumes rust, not iron pe

        • > A high level fly over that sprays bacteria on a steel structure. Two months later, shoot holes in it using a bb gun.

          Gee, thats so much more effective than using a BOMB.

          P.S. Ships are eaten away every day by salt water.
    • Actually, geobacter is more interesting for its ability to decontaminate soil [geobacter.org].
    • I just re-read "The Ringworld Engineers", and in it there's the issue where the Ringworld was created with lots of room-temperature superconductors, but then a bacteria landed which consumed superconductors, and that stopped the Ringworld from accepting power (beamed from the "shadow squares" which simulate day/night cycles).

      Then it veered off course and was going to smash into its sun, and for the rest I won't ruin it for you.

      What's amazing is it was written in 1980, and doesn't feel old at all.

  • I bet this "shit" idea was funded by n+HP-invent ( n is for nanotechnology )
  • by Dubpal (860472) * on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @06:51AM (#13277335) Homepage
    Don't these scientists read the news!? Wires are sooo twentieth century.
    Wake me up when they finally find bacteria that use Bluetooth.

  • "oxygen" "its source" not "it's source" Logical leap: Chip wires, to be economically feasible are needed to be placed at a rate of many meters per second. Nanowires probably grow many powers of ten times slower than this. And one might surmise that iron interfaces very poorly to silicon.
    • one chip may be made slower, but would this mean that more chips could be made at once: my own made up numbers:

      10 chips at once, 1 chip a second = 1 second for 10 chips

      1000 chips at once, 1 chip every 100 seconds = 1 second for 10 chips

      my maths my be off there though, and obvioulsy this is completely unfounded speculation.
    • Perhaps a single bacterium would "lay cable" (snigger, sorry) very slowly, but we have potentially massive parallelism here, provided you can find a way to actually control what these organisms do. No use if they just produce a load of nano-wire-wool, obviously!

  • by RenHoek (101570)
    After all the time I spend in trying to get the damn bugs OUT of my computer, now the manufacturer it factoring them right in at the start of building my computer :(
  • To all you ex-G.I.s and former college students:

    This brings new meaning to the term S.O.S.

  • Intel in the terms of use for my new nano=bacteria-CPU wrote: DO NOT OVERCLOCK THIS CPU. IT COULD RESULT IN OVERCOOKED BACTERIA.

    I decided to give it a try and, my CPU started to sweat!!! What should I do? Give water to my bacterias?

  • Nice (Score:2, Funny)

    by airjrdn (681898)
    Great, now they're building the bugs into the chips on purpose? What next?
  • by kwoff (516741)
    How badass do you have to be to breath metal?
  • I always wanted a pet goose that lays golden eggs, but I'm willing to settle for pet bacteria that shit gold wires.

    -
  • >
    >nanowires it excretes while working.

    and Microsoft will vigorously defend its patented ability to turn your PC into excrement.
  • Carbon Nanotubes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @08:09AM (#13277655)
    Now all we need is a bacterium that can produce useful things made of carbon, such as nanotubes, consuming methane and releasing hydrogen in the process. Then we can all switch to fuel-cell based cars without all this perpetual kvetching over how to get the hydrogen.

  • I think we've all seen this epsiode of STNG. Remember when the nano-bots keep eating parts of the enterprise, and then become sentient? The only way to appease the macro-nano-bots was to send them off the ship somewhere/somehow.

    Unfortunately for us, we have no way to offload them from our homeworld. Because of this, if we unleash this technology it can only be to our own undoing!

    That is the only conceivable future of this technology!


    Kent Brockman: "Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, wo
  • by vudufixit (581911) on Tuesday August 09, 2005 @08:14AM (#13277695)
    For bringing penicillin to work! I had strep! WHERE IS THE JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD???
  • Subject says it all... This story reminds me of the US military silk producing spider-goats [google.com]

  • Here's an interesting note: The RSS feed has oxygen spelled oxigen.

    Any ideas why?

    Do the articles have to be manually entered to the RSS feed? The the editors actually (GASP!) edit something??

    ~D
  • "What metal the nanowires are made of is not yet known"
    Well it's bacteria shit, I don't care what kind of metal it is, it's shit.

    he said excrement, he he

  • That bathroom breaks mean exactly the opposite for these bacteria?
  • Does anyone have a link to the paper in question?
  • But if I reading it correctly, it sounds like these nanowires are basically bacterial poop?

    How fast does the bateria work? Could you drop a couple barrels of it on enemy hardware (tanks, planes, buildings, refineries, etc) and have it eat the metal away, or would sun/rain/snow/heat wash them away?
  • We can now make the world's smallest violin... even smaller!
  • Now the archaeobacteria living below us for the first mile or two down in the rocks will be upgrading, able to grow fast interconnections instead of relying on slow chemical signaling.

    I for one welcome our new archaeobacterial underlords.

    Maybe they'll be able to make oil faster out of subducted organic material that comes their way, the next time life on the surface of the planet almost dies off.
  • How do you get all of the bacteria to crap in a straight line?

    I mean, all it takes is one of the little buggers to go off in a random direction and it'll short the whole damned circuit.

    Unless, of course, we can engineer another strain of bacteria that eat the metal wire and excrete insulated wire. :)

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