Manganese is a grayish-white transition metal, similar to iron. It is a hard and very brittle metal, refractory and easily oxidized. It is one of the most abundant elements on the surface of the Earth. Now it has been confirmed that there are bacteria that use it for food , using this metal as a source of calories.
Jared Leadbetter , a professor of environmental microbiology at Caltech, who, in collaboration with postdoctoral scholar Hang Yu, describes the findings in the journal Nature .
Found in a dirty container
The discovery of these bacteria was a clear case of serendipity: after conducting unrelated experiments using a light form of manganese similar to chalk, Leadbetter found the bacteria by chance , leaving a dirty glass jar with the substance to submerge it in water from the tap into the Caltech office sink before leaving for several months to work off campus.
The finding helps researchers better understand the geochemistry of groundwater. Bacteria are known to degrade contaminants in groundwater, a process called bioremediation .
The study also reveals that bacteria can use manganese to convert carbon dioxide into biomass, a process called chemosynthesis .
The research results also have possible relevance to understanding the manganese nodules that dot much of the seafloor.