A researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology has discovered a bacterium that can produce hydrogen. Dr. Melanie Mormile, professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T, and her team discovered the bacterium Halanaerobium hydrogeninformans in Soap Lake, Washington.

In her first single-author article, Mormile’s findings were featured in the Nov. 19 edition of Frontiers in Microbiology.

Dr Melanie Mormile Discovers Hydrogen Producing Bacterium.

Dr Melanie Mormile Discovers Hydrogen Producing Bacterium.

Dr. Mormile said it can “produce hydrogen under saline and alkaline conditions in amounts that rival genetically modified organisms. Usually, I tend to study the overall microbial ecology of extreme environments, but this particular bacterium has caught my attention. I intend to study this isolate in greater detail.”

Dr. Mormile is an expert in the microbial ecology of extreme environments. She wasn’t searching for a bacterium that could produce hydrogen. Instead, she first became interested in bacteria that could help clean up the environment, especially looking at the extremophiles found in Soap Lake.

An extremophile is a microorganism that lives in conditions of extreme temperature, acidity, alkalinity or chemical concentration. Living in such a hostile environment, Halanaerobium hydrogeninformans has metabolic capabilities under conditions that occur at some contaminated waste sites.

With Halanaerobium hydrogeninformans, she expected to find an iron-reducing bacterium and describe a new species. What she found was a new species of bacterium that can produce hydrogen and 1, 3-propanediol under high pH and salinity conditions that might turn out to be valuable industrially. An organic compound, 1, 3-propenediol can be formulated into industrial products including composites, adhesives, laminates and coatings. It’s also a solvent and can be used as antifreeze.

The infrastructure isn’t in place now for hydrogen to replace gasoline as a fuel for planes, trains and automobiles.

But if hydrogen becomes an alternative to gasoline, Halanaerobium hydrogeniformans, mass-produced on an industrial scale, might be one solution – although it won’t be a solution anytime soon.

“It would be great if we got liters and liters of production of hydrogen,” Dr. Mormile said. “However, we have not been able to scale up yet.”

This is very early in the research phase and welcome news. But keep in mind that 1, 3-propenediol is pretty useful stuff in its own right. Way to go Professor!


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