All Hail Our Coming Microbial Overlords

Geobacter metallireducens. Originally found in anaerobic soil and aquatic sediment (also known as mud) about twenty years ago – though I’m sure it had been there all along – this bacterial species had some initially intriguing capabilities that have only become sexier and sexier as the terrestrial courtship progressed.

[The] Findings open the door to improved microbial fuel cell architecture and should lead to “new applications that extend well beyond extracting electricity from mud,” Lovley says. In the new experiments, the UMass Amherst researchers adapted the microbe’s environment, which pushed it to adapt more efficient electric current transfer methods.

“In very short order we increased the power output by eight-fold, as a conservative estimate,” says Lovley. “With this, we’ve broken through the plateau in power production that’s been holding us back in recent years.” Now, planning can move forward to design microbial fuel cells that convert waste water and renewable biomass to electricity, treat a single home’s waste while producing localized power (especially attractive in developing countries), power mobile electronics, vehicles and implanted medical devices, and drive bioremediation of contaminated environments.

Now, the speciesists will contend that we must preserve the purity of homo sapiens and must not interact with this lowly organism, even at the cost of denying ourselves new energy sources. Will this bio-bigotry prevail? Can we put aside antiquated social conventions to expand our thirst for power? Or will a distaste for mixing with certain organisms lead us to a glorious, low energy future?