When you think about bacteria, it’s likely that the first things that come to mind aren’t very pleasant. You think of spoiled milk or fermenting garbage. But as it turns out, bacteria may be far more useful than what we give it credit for. So, throw away that germicidal hand-soap (okay, maybe not), and strap in to learn about a pretty gross way to generate electricity.

Harness the power of nastiness

Believe it or not, your guts are kind of electric. Well, not the guts themselves, but the bacteria in them. The environment inside you where the bacteria reside has very little oxygen present, so in order to survive, the bacteria have to adapt.

They survive by generating their own electricity. And of course, us being humans and all, our first instinct is to enslave the little buggers and mooch off of their electricity ourselves. But, unfortunately, progress has been slow in that field.

MIT makes progress towards prokaryotic power

Only a few strains of bacteria are known to us that can generate their own electricity. To no one’s surprise, they all have one trait in common: they live in low-oxygen environments. However, because there are so few and because their electricity output is such a minute thing, it’s a very difficult and time-consuming task to sort them out.

That was, until scientists at MIT decided to reverse engineer a different method of sorting bacteria to meet their own ends. The method is used to sort out bacteria with more easily observable qualities; with a little help from some electrical current, they were able to separate the bacteria based on electrical output.

A step in the right direction, but there’s still miles to go

The thought of a massive farm where bacteria are allowed to romp and frolic among meadows of electricity-harvesting equipment isn’t exactly an appealing one, but most would admit that it’d certainly be useful.

However, it seems that’s still a ways off. We’ve only now figured out how to sort the high-electricity producing strains; cultivating them in giant farms is an entirely different (and expensive) problem.