Superbugs A New Source of Power

The Nonsense Papers: Superbugs: A New Source Of Power Or Humanity’s Downfall?

By James W. Astrada

 

Bacteria has always marveled humans and the science community for centuries due to their unique nature and their ability within the human body.  Certain bacteria cause humans and animals grave consequences which lead to death, and some bacteria which exists within our digestive tract help us regulate and maintain overall health.  Establish science has researched certain bacteria and their effects over the years to better understand and hopefully utilize their untapped power for the advancement of humanity; whilst making a name for themselves as well.   But are humans going too far as to mettle with nature to surpass and control it by halting its natural process?  Nature has certain was to balance its self by utilizing bacteria to reduce species and their populations by some specific order; it has happened for millennia and as a result, bacteria has altered and changed itself remaining the dominant organism yet created.  It not only has the ability to change its structure genetically, it also grows rapidly resistant to any known man made antibiotic.  It acts as if it has a sort of unknown intelligence to create biofilms (“cities”) or bacterial communities to strengthen itself and become more lethal when introduced to certain environmental changes.  So far in nature, only humans are evolved enough to challenge nature’s will in order to find new ways to fight off bacterial/fungal infections and utilize these marvels of nature to aid them into creating cures, energy sources, and even weapons against other humans.  Have we reached our limit with tampering with nature?  Will a new superbug evolve due to our constant need of changing antibiotics to counteract a manmade bacterial creation that has gotten out of control?  Whatever the case may be, humans have opened the “Pandora’s Box” in the world of bacteria and microbes and cannot turn back.

In recent news, scientist in England have discovered a way to utilize a unique bacteria found in the upper atmosphere of Earth for possible energy sources that could benefit humanity and limit the use of fossil fuels.  Scientists from Newcastle University have labeled this bacteria bacillus stratosphericus (which is usually found 18 miles above the Earth) which has been engineered to become a potentially efficient high energy source.  Scientists in England have been at work testing different bacteria to see which potential candidates would be able to harness and produce the most energy.  The microbial process they utilized has been well documented in the process of sewage treatment and water cleansing, however, does not yet establish any means to determine a power source of electricity.  The new bacteria studied is commonly found in the upper atmosphere, however, sources state that it also exists in small amounts in the troposphere due to atmospheric cycling processes.  Have scientists whom are excited about the potential advancements of this discovery thought about the potential dangers of this relatively new bacteria?  It is true that different bacteria thrive and live in different levels of the Earth’s atmosphere. However, if introduce into a new level where that specific bacteria is almost nonexistent, could it develop into a new harmful virus that could cause potential degradation to many species?  It could be possible that most of the civilian science community is not yet familiar with how dangerous new bacterial creations can be; which could in turn create new diseases that our antibiotics are defenseless against.  Even though this process does advance science, generate profit in pharmaceutical companies due to the need for a new “vaccine,” do the benefits outweigh the costs?  Even though arguments can be created on both sides of the spectrum, scientists are excited about the potential benefits that can be given to parts of the world that do not have electricity.  Professor Grant Burgess from the Department of Marine Biotechnology at Newcastle, was excited about the research concerning the “potential power of technique” and stated the following:

“what we have done is deliberately manipulate the microbial mix to engineer a biofilm that is more efficient at generating electricity.  There are billions of microbes out there with the potential to generate power…”

 

Using what they called a microbial fuel cell (or MFC) to tests their seventy-five different types of bacteria, they were able to convert organic compounds into electricity by the process called bio-catalytic oxidation.  The process allows the biofilms to coat the carbon electrodes of the microbial fuel cells.  As the bacteria begin to feed on this material, they produce electrons which pass into the electrodes and generate a power source.  Can this blessing be a curse in disguise?  Could this bacteria that could help millions around the world reduce their carbon footprint and the use of fossil fuels for energy also cause a new virus that could easily reduce the human population if it fell into the wrong hands?  In 1911, Professor MC Potter of Durham University produced electricity from the E.coli bacteria in his botany lab.  Now E.coli has caused many deaths (because of kidney failure) and has caused food poisoning.  Even though many government agencies tell the public that only certain strains are “harmless,” since 1911, the bacteria has had time to evolve and change into something else.  Did professor Potter foresee the potential danger of using E.coli as a mere electric conductor would eventually morph into a dangerous bacteria that exists now in most vegetables, cookie dough, and other food sources killing thousands?  Could the same transpire with these new bacterial superbugs that scientists are discovering now to change not only the face of science, but the world?  What will the seventy-five new bacteria evolve into in 50 years?  Could they be used as a potential biological weapon if manipulated to do so?  When will humanity stop altering nature’s design before we head into irreversible consequences?  Yes science is growing everyday and has brought upon positive changes to human civilizations (i.e technology, medicinal cures, longer life spans, space travel, etc… ) however, in our quest for immortality and to break nature’s cycle how far are we willing to go?  Discoveries and downfalls go hand in hand; some more dangerous than others.  In the realm of bacteria and their unique nature, have we finally found an organism that surpasses our intelligence, evolution, and will to live as it changes every time we look for a cure?

 

References:

Power From Space Superbugs.” Red Orbit Space News. Feb 22, 2012.

(redorbit.com/news/space/1112479654/power-from-space-super bugs/)

Ed Yong. “Space: Medicine’s final frontier”  Wired UK. May 2011.

E. coli food safety.“ (foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/ecoli/index.html)

Stratospheric superbugs offer new source of power.”  Science Daily.  Feb 21, 2012.

©James Astrada 2012

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