No, not chemical connections.Not genetic connections.  Not conceptual connections.   How about electrical connections?

Deep on the ocean floor, colonies of bacteria appear to have connected themselves via microscopic power grids that would be the envy of any small town. Much remains unknown about the process, but if confirmed the findings could revolutionize scientists’ understanding of how the world’s smallest ecosystems operate.

Oxygen-breathing bacteria that live on the ocean bottom have a problem. Those sitting atop the sediment have ready access to oxygen in the water but not to the precious mineral nutrients that lie out of reach a centimeter or so below the ground. Meanwhile, those microbes that live in the sediment can access the nutrients, but they lack oxygen. How do both groups survive?


the researchers did something they knew would make the bacteria unhappy: They started removing the oxygen from the water. If the bacteria were swapping materials, as Nielsen had suspected, those living below the surface of the mud would have gradually noticed that their oxygen supply was being cut off; they would have registered chemical changes in the sediment that could be detected by sensors. But instead, Nielsen and colleagues witnessed something far more rapid. Almost as soon as the researchers began removing the oxygen, the subsurface bacteria stopped consuming hydrogen sulfide in the mud.


These responses occurred too quickly for any sort of chemical exchange or molecular process such as osmosis, says Nielsen. The most plausible option, his team reports in the 25 February issue of Nature, is that the bacteria are somehow communicating electrically by transmitting electrons back and forth. How exactly they do this is unclear, but Nielsen suspects the organisms may all be connected to each other via a microscopic electric grid, possibly made from tiny grains of metal, such as iron and manganese, in the sediment.

If the wiring idea turns out to be true, it essentially would turn the bacterial community into a cross-sediment power grid—one that would span some 20 kilometers if scaled up for humans. Instead of receiving oxygen from the surface and turning it into energy—something the researchers say is not possible given the thickness of the sediment depth observed—the buried bacteria would simply receive energy in the form of electrons from the grid. In response, the subsurface bacteria could survive while buried and send nutrients back up to their comrades on the surface via chemical migration.

4 responses to “Connections

  1. Amazing stuff!

  2. Just a thought

    It seems that there are finite boundary transitional zones. Regulation of these transitional zones is of primary importance to life. It is in these zones that there is a need for a homeostatic balance for life to exist.

    Also, for these regulation networks it is almost like a needle in groove. Once it gets into a groove it keeps going around and around with only modest lateral movements (for the needle moves inward towards the center of the record), and only in the case where there is bump in the needle, the needle will stay in the groove. But unlike the needle the entrenchment becomes deeper and deeper over time and more difficult to move away from the homeostatic balance network. Where the needle starts – will to a high degree – determine where things end up.

  3. Interesting metaphor!

  4. Tesla was looking at ways to transmit energy using the earth…

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