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Bacillus stratosphericus made headlines when it was discovered to be a powerful potential workhorse for microbial fuel cells (MFCs). In February 2012 a team of scientists from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and Yangzhou University in China, working to develop MFCs as low-cost, portable, bacteria-powered batteries which take advantage of catalytic oxidation in anaerobic conditions to convert organic matter into electricity, published their results of “prospecting” for appropriate bacteria in the river Wear, in Sunderland, UK. Bacillus stratosphericus was collected and identified from a consortium of 75 different bacterial strains these scientists collected, and when isolated and tested, proved to be capable of high power generation. Although believed to live primarily in the stratosphere, atmospheric cycling is thought to bring B. stratosphericus (and other stratospheric bacteria) to earth, explaining its presence in the river Wear estuary. Culturing B. stratosphericus along with 25 other bacterial strains also selected for their potential to efficiently generate power allowed the research team to engineer a super biofilm, which nearly doubled the output of the microbial fuel cell they are developing. This strategy of selecting particularly productive bacterial strains may inspire assays of other extreme environments, such as the deep sea, to identify more species with high power-generating capabilities for use in MFCs.
(Gavaghan 2012; Newcastle University Press Office 2012; Shivaji et al. 2006; Wainwright 2012; Zhang et al. 2012)