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Bacteria seen swimming the electron shuffle

Researchers have captured the bacterium Shewanella's behavior on film

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3:56pm, December 7, 2009

New videos have caught bacteria in the act of a completely new behavior. A study appearing in the Dec. 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that Shewanella cells briefly touch an electron-accepting surface, lift off and swim furiously, and then return to the metal surface.

The researchers call this flighty new behavior electrokinesis, and think it may be a way for bacteria to dump built-up electrons before taking off in search of food, much like a whale surfacing for a breath before diving. Understanding this frenetic movement may help scientists design better microbial fuel cells, which harness these electron-shuttling bacteria to produce energy.

“As far as we know, it is a new behavior,” says study coauthor and microbiologist Ken Nealson of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “It’s a new way of thinking about what bacteria do. The really great thing is that it’s probably opened

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