Planet Battery

A few months back, Nature published an article stating that the "Earth beneath our feet might act as a gigantic circuit built by microbes to power their metabolic systems."

It's not a planet at all, then, but a bio-electrical deposit rotating in space. A living battery.
And while that obviously sounds far-fetched, we actually read that these microbes function as a "geological battery," and that this battery is made from "networks of tiny wires linking individual bacterial cells into a web-like electrical circuit." These circuits could extend for miles – hundreds of miles – whole continents and island chains, linked by reefs.
Who knows?
The article also describes these things as "sediment batteries" – so I have a hard time not imagining some old river in the Andes coming down out of its mountain chain, weathering through and eroding the outer soils and bedrock, exposing elemental belts of copper, silver, zinc, and gold, then depositing those fragments in vast, glittering deltaic arrays downstream.
Over the years, microbes move in; the sediments, hundreds of feet deep now and miles wide, begin fluttering with an undetectably faint electrical trace; finally, that remote riverbed, with its weird subsurface nets of energy, and its scattered metals, and its rare microbes, begins generating power... Birds flock toward it, their migration routes scrambled. Nearby compasses go akimbo.
Over the hills, there is a valley of light. You walk toward it.
The Earth is shining.
Religions develop. Their adherents worship geological deposits.
The person in charge of researching all this is called a geobiologist. One such researcher quips that he's been studying "microbe-driven sediment batteries."
Someday you'll just take a power cord – and plug it into the Earth.

(You can read the original article in this PDF. See also BLDGBLOG's look at the wire garden – and, of course, Merry Christmas! May your day be free of desolation and abandonment. And thanks, Steve, for originally pointing this story out to me).

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Blogger Steve Silberman said...

Beautiful writing, Geoff. Merry Christmas.

Meanwhile, Angela Belcher is growing viruses that secrete batteries.

December 26, 2007 2:12 AM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

So grotesquely unrelated that I just may lose my commenting privileges here, but who cares: a zoological park of mechanized anaerobic bioreactors turned power plant.

December 26, 2007 2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff... I wonder if this relates in any way to Thomas Gold's theories (see Environmental Literacy Council, "Abiotic Theory", also put forward in his book, The Deep Hot Biosphere)? Freeman Dyson wrote the foreword to his book -- weird, but thought-provoking (both Dyson & Gold, I mean).

December 26, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Alex, you're banned. Unless you promise to leave more comments like that.

And, Yule, that Thomas Gold book sounds amazing - I'll check out a copy as soon as I can.

Steve, keep the stories coming, neighbor!

December 28, 2007 12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why someone's first thoughts would be about a battery. Mine (at seeing this) where about, well, THOUGHTS. Wouldn't this network constitute some kind of brain?

January 06, 2008 12:04 AM  

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