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Fabricating Magnetic Bacteria

Magnetotactic bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms found in almost all bodies of water. They orient and navigate along magnetic fields like miniature swimming compass needles due to the nanosized crystals of the minerals magnetite or greigite they produce. The presence of these magnetic crystals makes the bacteria and their internal crystals--called magnetosomes--useful in drug delivery and medical imaging. 

After finding a greigite-producing species in water samples collected 280 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin in Death Valley, Calif., researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, isolated and grew magnetic bacteria in their laboratory. The researchers found that their version of the bacteria produces both greigite and magnetite. The discovery of this new type of bacterium, called BW-1, could lead to novel biotech and nanotech uses.

While many magnetite-producing bacteria can be grown and easily studied, the NSF-funded researchers were the first to cultivate a greigite-producing species. A detailed look at the bacteria's DNA revealed that BW-1 has two sets of magnetosome genes, unlike other such bacteria which produce only one mineral and have only one set of magnetosome genes. This suggests that the production of magnetite and greigite in BW-1 is likely controlled by separate sets of genes. This could be important in the mass production of either mineral for specific applications.

Images (1 of )

  • badwater basin, death valley national park where magnetic bacteria was found
  • a cell from the magnetotactic bacterium
  • greigite-containing magnetotactic bacterium from badwater basin
Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park.
Dennis Bazylinski and Christopher Lefèvre
A cell from the BW-1 bacterium.
Dennis Bazylinski and Christopher Lefèvre
Greigite-containing magnetotactic bacterium.
Dennis Bazylinski and Christopher Lefèvre

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