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Thread: Radiation powered bacteria?

  1. #1 Radiation powered bacteria? 
    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Maybe this should go in Sci-fi, but apparently there are bacteria that can survive in nuclear reactor and appear to be relatively unharmed by some level of radiation. Would it be possible for a bacteria that is as much immune to radiation as is possible to absorb a radioactive particle and encase it with proteins and molecules in such a way that it could derive energy from the particle's radiation? A sort of alien nuclear powered bacteria?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    A number of claims of that ilk have been made. However, it is more likely that these bugs are simply more tolerant of radiation. One bacterium - Deinococcus radiodurans - is often found in the cooling water of nuclear reactors, and can tolerate levels of radioactivity that is perhaps 10,000 times as high as the human body can tolerate. One thing this bug has, is an extremely efficient DNA repair mechanism.


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    The Enchanter westwind's Avatar
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    For skeptic. Well there you go then. Another research project postulated.....extremely efficient DNA repair mechanism... so much to learn. I sense, but cannot prove, that the Biologists and the Scientificic Community feel they have arrived at the half way point in knowable solutions to phenomena. Mmaaaateee, they have taken one step forward, with 43 steps to go. westwind.
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  5. #4  
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    Then there was that large bacterial colony found growing under the chernoble recactor, apparently deriving energy from the alpha bombardment. However that may just be an opportunistic bacteria growing in large numbers in an environment that is inhospitable to other life.
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    Forum Professor Zwolver's Avatar
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    Alpha radiation is mostly harmfull, contains the most energy, and can actually be stopped by a piece of paper. But it contains energy, though i can not comprehend how the metabolism of these bacteria can actually get the energy from it. Heliumcores itself have no energy, maybe energy is excised when reacting with electrons. It may even help a cell who has to many electrons. But mainly the electrons are the source of ATP. A reaction would then have to be able to make ATP from energized helium cores.

    For now, i would say no, bacteria can't do that. Not without a protective metallic plate to stop the alpha's and some way to collect the electrons jumping out from that, or to do something with the physical heat.
    Growing up, i marveled at star-trek's science, and ignored the perfect society. Now, i try to ignore their science, and marvel at the society.

    Imagine, being able to create matter out of thin air, and not coming up with using drones for boarding hostile ships. Or using drones to defend your own ship. Heck, using drones to block energy attacks, counterattack or for surveillance. Unless, of course, they are nano-machines in your blood, which is a billion times more complex..
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  7. #6  
    HFS
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    I think it's unlikely that a bacterium would be able to feed electrons from a radioactive atom into the electron transport chain. Respiration is ultimately: glucose (C6H12O6) + oxygen (6O2; the electron acceptor) -> 6CO2 + 6H2O
    but this is carried out by a large series of biochemical reactions (glycolysis, Kreb's tricarboxylic acid cycle), controlled with many catalysts and involving many metabolic intermediates between glucose and carbon dioxide. The electrons that come from the oxidation of glucose are fed along the electron transport chain, a series of proteins on the mitochondrial or bacterial cell membrane, in each step protons are filtered to one side of the membrane, creating an electric potential (which ATPases use to generate ATP), then the electrons finally reach the end of the series and reduce the oxygen molecule to water. The idea of lots of radioactive isotopes in the cell sounds a bit chaotic and uncontrollable to me. Also, you have to think, is there a selective pressure to derive energy from radiation?
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by HFS View Post
    Also, you have to think, is there a selective pressure to derive energy from radiation?
    Well, yeah, if there's radiation to live off of, then it's probably killing off all of that bacterium's food. If it's underneath Chernobyl there isn't any light. (I am absolutely not an expert on biology, (in fact, I am not an expert on anything))
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    Forum Professor Zwolver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrutiny View Post
    (I am absolutely not an expert on biology, (in fact, I am not an expert on anything))
    The way i see it, you do know yourself.

    And your right, if the only food scource is contaminated with radiation bacteria will simply become more and more resistant. BUT it would be a huge asset to the bacteria if it could derive passive ATP from this energy.

    In theory, (after some thinking) i now see that it can be done. A protein that is big, dense, and has a huge affinity for itself, could be placed on the inside, or the outside of the membrane, or cell wall. When an alpha ray hits this, the proteins split, and will try to get back together. But this proces has released a lot of electrons, keeping these proteins apart, they would have to be removed by other enzymes for the protein to get back together again. I would see this protein as a bullseye. The electrons appear because the heliumcore is positively charged. Not sure if an enzyme can stand the impact of an alpha particle though.

    Not sure what else could theoretically do the trick, or if it would be energy efficient. Probably not. Any ideas?
    Growing up, i marveled at star-trek's science, and ignored the perfect society. Now, i try to ignore their science, and marvel at the society.

    Imagine, being able to create matter out of thin air, and not coming up with using drones for boarding hostile ships. Or using drones to defend your own ship. Heck, using drones to block energy attacks, counterattack or for surveillance. Unless, of course, they are nano-machines in your blood, which is a billion times more complex..
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  10. #9  
    HFS
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrutiny View Post
    Well, yeah, if there's radiation to live off of, then it's probably killing off all of that bacterium's food
    Bacteria utilise carbohydrates as an energy source, these molecules aren't alive and so can't be "killed off". I am unaware of the effects of ionizing radiation on carbohydrate structure, but their effects on cellular macromolecules are well characterised and are very detrimental to cellular structure and function. In other words, under significant radiation levels, the lack of a carbon source is the least of the cells worries.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scrutiny View Post
    If it's underneath Chernobyl there isn't any light.


    Most bacteria don't photosynthesise; off the top of my head, only cyanobacteria and some halobacteria (Archae, which do not contain chlrophyll, but bacteriorhodopsin) can obtain energy from light. The vast majority are heterotrophs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Zwolver
    Not sure if an enzyme can stand the impact of an alpha particle though.
    I'm not an expert on ionizing radiation but I think the major problem associated with it (from a cellular aspect) is the amounts of free electrons being created from a chain reaction. Cells have specific proteins to deal with free radicals and it's one of the reasons vitamin C is 'good' for us (when a free radical reacts with it, the redox potential is so low that it's usually the end of the chain and will not react with (and therefore damage) anything else). Under high levels of free radicals these systems fail.

    Coming back to the topic of the thread. I think the key word is 'survive'. These bacteria probably are not metabolically active. Some species can encyst or sporulate under stressful conditions, perhaps this is the case.
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  11. #10  
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    According to this, it looks like there are fungi that actually use the radiation.
    Radiotrophic fungus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Radiotrophic fungi are fungi which appear to use the pigment melanin to convert gamma radiation[1] into chemical energy for growth.
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