bug sitting

I recently took care of some of ESI colleague Chris Bryans’ bugs while he was abroad attending a conference. His cultures were unlike any other I had seen: two reactors kept bubbling at 80C and a pH of 1.5. My job was to feed the bugs, a mix of Sulfolobus, Metalosphaera and the fantastically named Acidianus infernus, a gram of chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) everyday. These organisms metabolize this mineral to obtain energy, precipitating copper in the process (obtaining carbon by fixing CO2). This process of bioleaching makes them in effect tiny miners which could be of great practical use. I am used to microbes with a much more boring heterotrophic, mesophilic lifestyle and so always have to be careful not to contaminate any cultures with other bugs that could happen to land on it. It is highly unlikely that any bug floating around in the research hall where these reactors are housed can grow at 80C  and pH 1.5 and so it is unnecessary to take the precautions I am used to such as wearing gloves and working in a laminar flow hood. Actually, any bug that could outgrow the current culture would be more than welcome to, this would be a form of ‘accidental’ bioprospecting!

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