Scientists Discover Metal-Eating Bacteria

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. feed on / fid ɒn / (phrasal) – to eat something as one’s usual food

    Dolphins feed mostly on sea creatures that are smaller than them.

  2. coated / ˈkoʊ tɪd / (adj) – covered with a layer of something

    These strawberries are coated in dark chocolate.

  3. oxidize / ˈɒk sɪˌdaɪz / (v) – to change chemically after being combined with oxygen

    The paint has oxidized and turned darker.

  4. harness / ˈhɑr nɪs / (v) – to collect and use something for a particular purpose

    Plants harness sunlight to make energy.

  5. clog / klɒg / (v) – to block something

    Oil and small pieces of food can clog sinks.


Read the text below.

Scientists from the California Institute of Technology discovered a new type of bacteria that feeds on manganese [MANG-guh-nees], a type of metal.

Jared Leadbetter, one of the scientists, accidentally discovered the bacteria after using a chalk-like form of manganese for an experiment. He left a jar filled with the metal and tap water in his office and went to work off campus for several months. When he returned, he found that the jar was coated with a black solid material, which would later be identified as manganese oxide. Leadbetter and his team said that this chemical reaction was caused by new bacteria, which they believe had most likely come from the tap water.

According to the scientists, the bacteria oxidizes manganese. This process is known as chemosynthesis, and it converts carbon dioxide into a food source. It is similar to how plants use sunlight to produce food from carbon dioxide.

Leadbetter said that the newly discovered type of bacteria is the first one found to harness manganese to fuel its growth.

According to the researchers, previous studies have shown that manganese oxides are sometimes present in groundwater and can clog water distribution systems, which bring drinkable water to homes and other establishments. However, how and why such material is formed has remained a mystery. The researchers believe that their findings can help them better understand the formation of manganese oxides and prevent these compounds from blocking waterways.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Since manganese oxides pose problems for water distribution systems, should water companies or the government fund the study in the article? Why or why not?
• Do you think this study will also be helpful in your country? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• Do you think many inventions that we know today are products of accidental discoveries? Why or why not?
• Do you think accidental discoveries are a product of careful observation or are purely a result of chance? Why?