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Name: Jen T.
Status: Other
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2002


Question:
What is the name of the bacterium that eats stone?



Replies:
I do not know any bacterium with that reputation.

Trudy Wassenaar


Dear Jen,

I believe that you are probably referring to a class of bacteria known as "lithotrophs", which translates literally as "rock-eating". These bacteria are generally capable of utilizing inorganic compounds as their primary energy source. The inorganic compounds can be, & often are, the mineral components of actual rocks, hence their name. Consequently, these bacteria represent a major environmental force contributing to the weathering of rocks in nature. There are a huge number of species in this category, but some of the most renown are the sulfur-oxidizing bacteria, such as Thiobacillus & Sulfolobus. They convert reduced sulfur, which can be a components of rocks, into sulfuric acid, further accelerating the weathering process. The following web page on "The Role of Microorganisms in Acid Rock Drainage" from InfoMine, Inc. nicely describes their contribution in more detail:

http://www.enviromine.com/ard/Microorganisms/roleof.htm

And finally, this web page, entitled "Lithotrophic Bacteria-Rock Eaters" from the University of Wisconsin, describes some of the general characteristics of this interesting bacterial class, although it does not focus on those which would typically be responsible for the dissolution, or weathering, of minerals in rocks:

http://www.bact.wisc.edu/microtextbook/Metabolism/lithotrophs.html

Thanks for the good question,

Jeff Buzby, Ph.D.
Children's Hospital of Orange County
NEWTON AAS
Division of Educational Programs
Argonne National Laboratory



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