Researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark, made a sensational discovery almost three years ago when they measured electric currents in the seabed. It was unclear as to what was conducting the current, but the researchers imagined the electric currents might run between different bacteria via a joint external wiring network.The researchers have now solved the mystery. It turns out that the whole process takes place inside bacteria that are one centimetre long. They make up a kind of live electric cable that no one had ever imagined existed. Each one of these 'cable bacteria' contains a bundle of insulated wires that conduct an electric current from one end to the other.
Electricity and seawater are usually a bad mix. And it was thus a very big surprise when scientists from Aarhus University a few years ago discovered electric currents between biological processes in the seabed. Since then they have been searching for an explanation and together with partners from the University of Southern California, USA, they now present sensational results in Nature.
"Our experiments showed that the electric connections in the seabed must be solid structures built by bacteria," says PhD student Christian Pfeffer, Aarhus University. He could interrupt the electric currents by pulling a thin wire horizontally through the seafloor. Just as when an excavator cuts our electric cables.
In microscopes, scientists found a hitherto unknown type of long, multi-cellular bacteria that was always present when scientists measured the electric currents.