Microbiologists Discover Bacteria That Feed on Metal – A Spiritual Insight

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Caltech microbiologists have found a bacteria that feeds upon manganese and uses the metal as a source of calories. [1] Researchers have proposed such bacteria should exist over 100 years ago. None had been found until now. The research paper describes how these bacteria are able to utilize manganese to convert CO2 into biomass, a process called chemosynthesis. Essentially, the bacteria converts the CO2 to make its own food. In biochemistry, chemosynthesis is the biological conversion of one or more carbon-containing molecules (usually carbon dioxide or methane) and nutrients into organic matter using the oxidation of inorganic compounds (e.g., hydrogen gas, hydrogen sulfide) or ferrous ions and manganese [1] as a source of energy, rather than sunlight as in the process of photosynthesis.  For example, giant tube worms use bacteria in their trophosome to fix carbon dioxide (using hydrogen sulfide as an electron and oxygen [2] or nitrate as an energy source) and produce sugars and amino acids.[3] Some reactions produce sulfur such as the hydrogen sulfide chemosynthesis reaction: [4]

18H2S + 6CO2 + 3O2 → C6H12O6 (carbohydrate) + 12H2O + 18S

Instead of releasing oxygen gas while fixing carbon dioxide as in photosynthesis, hydrogen sulfide chemosynthesis produces solid particles of sulfur in the process. In bacteria capable of chemoautotrophy (a form of chemosynthesis), such as purple sulfur bacteria [5], yellow particles of sulfur are present and visible in the cytoplasm.

References

  1. Hang Yu & Jared R. Leadbetter, “Bacterial chemolithoautotrophy via manganese oxidation,” Nature volume 583, pages 453–458 (2020),  DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2468-5  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2468-5
  2. Schmidt-Rohr, K. (2020). “Oxygen Is the High-Energy Molecule Powering Complex Multicellular Life: Fundamental Corrections to Traditional Bioenergetics” ACS Omega 5: 2221-2233. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.9b03352
  3. Biotechnology for Environmental Management and Resource Recovery. Springer. 2013. p. 179. ISBN 978-81-322-0876-1.
  4. “Chemolithotrophy | Boundless Microbiology,” courses.lumenlearning.com. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  5. The Purple Phototrophic Bacteria, Hunter, C. Neil. Dordrecht: Springer. 2009. ISBN 978-1-4020-8814-8. OCLC 304494953.

Researchers had previously identified bacteria capable of oxidizing manganese, or being capable of stripping electrons from manganese, but they had only speculated that microbes might be able to use manganese in chemosynthesis reactions to grow. The discovery was by accident. The researcher had a beaker of powdered manganese and allowed it to soak in tap water for several months working off campus; upon returning, the researcher discovered a black substance had formed. The black substance was oxidized manganese generated by the bacteria that was found in  tap water.  Manganese is one of the most abundant elements on earth, and the oxidized form is found in nature, on subsurface deposits, and in water distribution systems, etc. A literature search reveals many publications on environmental engineering and drinking water systems being clogged by manganese oxides, and how the manganese oxides were being generated was a mystery until now.  An interesting finding that is also reported in the literature is the presence of manganese particles laying on the bottom of the sea floor. These round metallic balls can measure as large as the size of a grapefruit, these had been discovered as far back as the 1870’s. Mining companies have considered exploiting the possibility of harvesting (collecting) these spheres since rare earth metals are also often found concentrated within them.  The formation of these manganese spheres on the surface of the seafloor are also a mystery, and it may be possible microorganisms such as bacteria may be instrumental in their formation as well. The preservation of these manganese spheres on the seafloor are important since more study is needed to understand the marine-biological mechanism that causes their formation. This recent paper [1] however fills a major intellectual gap in our understanding of the Earth’s elemental cycles, and adds another pathway (mechanism) a biological pathway in which manganese, a common transition metal, is utilized in the Earth’s biological ecosystem.

The Spiritual Insight that we receive from this type of research is related to the way in which this bacteria utilized manganese in the chemosynthesis process. These types of reactions are those which occur in the darkest regions of the earth. These regions lead to the need for different ways to generate food, where there is an absence of food make your own, as opposed to the surface of the earth which gets plenty of sunlight (i.e. photosynthesis). The Lord God Almighty provided a way for these species of bacteria, just as in the case of the giant tube worm, to generate its own food for survival in these dark, hot, and dangerous environments. The parallel that presents itself to us today is in the sense that we live in a dark and dangerous world, and the Lord God has provided a way for us to prosper, to have life and to have it more abundantly!  

In the opening chapter of the book of Shemot / Exodus we are told the following:

Shemot / Exodus 1:1-14

1:1 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: 1:2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 1:3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 1:4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 1:5 All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt. 1:6 Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 1:7 But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. 1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 1:9 He said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. 1:10 ‘Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.’ 1:11 So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. 1:12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. 1:13 The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; 1:14 and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them. (NASB, א   וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ: ב   רְאוּבֵן שִׁמְעוֹן לֵוִי וִיהוּדָה: ג   יִשָּׂשֹכָר זְבוּלֻן וּבִנְיָמִן: ד   דָּן וְנַפְתָּלִי גָּד וְאָשֵׁר: ה   וַיְהִי כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ-יַעֲקֹב שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם: ו   וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל-אֶחָיו וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא: ז   וּבְנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ אֹתָם:   פ   ח   וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ עַל-מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע אֶת-יוֹסֵף: ט   וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ: י   הָבָה נִּתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹֹנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ: יא   וַיָּשִֹימוּ עָלָיו שָֹרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת-פִּתֹם וְאֶת-רַעַמְסֵס: יב   וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל: יג   וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ: יד   וַיְמָרֲרוּ אֶת-חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים וּבְכָל-עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה אֵת כָּל-עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר-עָבְדוּ בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ:)

Here we are told how the people of Israel (Jacob) descended to Egypt due to the famine (see the last chapters of Bereshit / Genesis) and that Joseph had died and a new king arose who did not know Joseph and what he had done.  The new king of Egypt (Pharaoh) feared the people of Israel because they were so numerous and so Egypt enslaved them forcing them into hard labor to make bricks to build their cities.  Regardless of how hard Pharaoh had oppressed the people, they continued to multiply and spread out, and so the dread of them fell upon the Egyptians. Because of this, they made their lives bitter with hard labor (1:14). The Talmud describes these things in the following way:

Talmud Bavli Sotah 11b:2

The next verse states: “And they made their lives bitter through hard service, with mortar and brick, and with every laborious service in the field” (Exodus 1:14). Rava says: The verse mentions specifically mortar and brick and then all forms of labor, as initially the Egyptians had them work with mortar and bricks, and ultimately they subjugated them “and with every laborious service in the field.”

Talmud Bavli Sotah 11b:3

The verse concludes: “In all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor” (Exodus 1:14). Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: The meaning of befarekh is that the Egyptians would exchange the responsibilities of men and women, giving men’s work to women and women’s work to men, requiring everyone to do work to which they were unaccustomed. And even according to the one who says that there, in the previous verse, bifarekh indicates that the Egyptians enslaved the Jews with a soft mouth, here, in this verse, which describes the physical hardship of the labor, the word befarekh certainly means with crushing labor.

The scientific research on the bacteria which uses chemosynthesis to produce  food draws in this concept of dark, laborious, and harsh environments. The Egyptians had created a harsh environment in order to oppress the people in the hopes of suppressing their population growth. Their plans backfired and the people continue to grow and prosper (spread out). These things remind us how we live in a godless and insane world, and how we must also remember to remain committed to the Lord. It is at this time when we see a powerful change in the narrative of the Torah and the revelation of an all powerful, all knowing, all loving, morally perfect, and personal God! There is a radical departure from what we have seen previously. Previously, outside of the creation account, the Lord God has operated in the background in the lives of those whom He had called to be His people. Here we see the Lord God of Israel entering into the forefront bringing powerful miracles to deliver His people from their current state of hardship.  Following these events, the history of humanity will forever be changed by the reality of the Lord God, the king over all the earth, delivering his people through the provision of a Mashiach.  In the case of the Egyptian slavery, there was not just the physical bondage of hard labor, there was also a spiritual war that was taking place, in the fight for truth in a world that prefers deception, hatred, and darkness.  The way in which the Lord God of Israel would work is revealed to us in His discussions and interactions with Moshe according to Shemot / Exodus 34:1-10.

Shemot / Exodus 34:1-10

34:1 Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. 34:2 ‘So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. 34:3 ‘No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.’ 34:4 So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 34:5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 34:6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 34:7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ 34:8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. 34:9 He said, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.’ 34:10 Then God said, ‘Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you. (NASB, א   וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פְּסָל-לְךָ שְׁנֵי-לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים וְכָתַבְתִּי עַל-הַלֻּחֹת אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַל-הַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר שִׁבַּרְתָּ: ב   וֶהְיֵה נָכוֹן לַבֹּקֶר וְעָלִיתָ בַבֹּקֶר אֶל-הַר סִינַי וְנִצַּבְתָּ לִי שָׁם עַל-רֹאשׁ הָהָר: ג   וְאִישׁ לֹא-יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם-אִישׁ אַל-יֵרָא בְּכָל-הָהָר גַּם-הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר אַל-יִרְעוּ אֶל-מוּל הָהָר הַהוּא: ד   וַיִּפְסֹל שְׁנֵי-לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים וַיַּשְׁכֵּם מֹשֶׁה בַבֹּקֶר וַיַּעַל אֶל-הַר סִינַי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָֹה אֹתוֹ וַיִּקַּח בְּיָדוֹ שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים: ה   וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָֹה בֶּעָנָן וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם יְהוָֹה: ו   וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָֹה | עַל-פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָֹה | יְהֹוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת: ז   נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵֹא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד | עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים: ח   וַיְמַהֵר מֹשֶׁה וַיִּקֹּד אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ: ט   וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲדֹנָי יֵלֶךְ-נָא אֲדֹנָי בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ כִּי עַם-קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף הוּא וְסָלַחְתָּ לַעֲוֹנֵנוּ וּלְחַטָּאתֵנוּ וּנְחַלְתָּנוּ: [ששי] י   וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי כֹּרֵת בְּרִית נֶגֶד כָּל-עַמְּךָ אֶעֱשֶֹה נִפְלָאֹת אֲשֶׁר לֹא-נִבְרְאוּ בְכָל-הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל-הַגּוֹיִם וְרָאָה כָל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בְקִרְבּוֹ אֶת-מַעֲשֵֹה יְהוָֹה כִּי-נוֹרָא הוּא אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶֹה עִמָּךְ:)

Notice how the Lord revealed Himself to Moshe, 34:6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 34:7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ (NASB)  Here the Lord God describes Himself as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness (grace, chesed) and truth! The Lord God describes His faithfulness to those who seek Him, and then the Lord says, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.” (34:10) These things speak of the Lord God working in the lives of His people in a powerful way, and in such a way that all the nations will know and fear the Lord for what He is doing! These things describe who God is, One who loves us and will never leave nor forsake us in the midst of this dark and evil world.  

These things reveal to us how the Lord God of Israel is the ultimate source of power in the lives of His people! This is why we read what we do according to 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, “Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.”  Many passages from the Tanach speak of the Lord God giving His power to those who are weak. For example, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). The Psalmists states in Tehillim / Psalm 68:35 that God gives power to His people: “You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” These Scriptures from the Torah (Shemot / Exodus 34) speak of the power of God being poured out in the lives of His people.  In the Apostolic Writings, the Scriptures state that the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16; see also 1 Corinthians 1:18)  Our ability to bring glory to God is found in the fact of God’s presence in our lives.  This is why Yeshua said, wait for the power that will be given from on high when he said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The power of God strengthens us from the inside out as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:16 saying, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” It is the presence of God in our lives that enables us to become the people of God, serving him bringing the message of peace, love, and truth according to the Gospel to the world. (Ephesians 3:7) Just as we read according to Shemot / Exodus  34:10 “Then God said, ‘Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.” (NASB) The power of God in our lives is beyond comprehension! (Ephesians 3:20) As we see in the Scientific research, the Lord God has given bacteria and the animal kingdom the means to survive (i.e. chemosynthesis), so too it is the divine power that is at work in us that enables us to live for the Lord God Almighty.  It is also in His Mashiach Yeshua, that we receive power for those who believe. In fact, this power God gives believers is the same power that raised Yeshua from the dead and seated Him in heavenly places. 

Now in order to experience this power of God in our lives, we must not discount the Lord God’s ability to accomplish the impossible, just as the Scriptures are describing. In Bereshit / Genesis 17 we are told how the Lord God appeared to Abraham, and the Torah states, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Bereshit / Genesis 17:1–2) Note how Abraham was 99 years old and the Lord told him that He would increase his numbers. In Matthew 19, Yeshua spoke to his disciples about the impossibility of mankind being saved.  He said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The disciples response was “who then can be saved?” In the example of Israel, the Lord God worked powerfully to deliver her from salvery in Egypt. Today the Lord has given us His Son, Yeshua (Jesus) to empower our lives for Him! When we consider the pages of the Torah, and the various narratives (i.e. Abraham, Israel, and Egypt) we realize that we are to have faith and not discount the impossible, no matter the situation! The reason being, by discounting the impossible we miss the glory of God in our lives! The lack of faith in the impossible may also keep the Lord God from moving in our lives. The scientific research draws out these concepts of making possible where there is impossibility. In parallel fashion, scientists have discovered Bacteria or organisms (i.e. giant tube worms) who create their own food in an unusual way (chemosynthesis). The question for us today is, at our darkest moments, does our faith keep God from breaking into our circumstance in a special way? Do we expect the Lord God to work a miracle in our live? Or do we think the situations presented to us in life are too difficult?  In order to realize these things in our lives, we must have faith, we must believe in the Word of God (The Bible) and we must trust and seek the Lord God Almighty by faith in Yeshua His son in order to receive power from on high.  Remember, power from above does not come by wisdom, knowledge, or practice, it comes by faith believing, and trusting in the Lord and by recognizing our own weakness. It is only when we humble ourselves and seek Him that we will see miracles and experience His power in our lives! As we continue to walk in His ways, we will bear much fruit, and have life more abundantly because it is the Lord Himself who is working in us to bring glory to His Name!

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Duane D. Miller received his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. Degree in Chemical Engineering from The University of Akron Ohio. He is currently a Chemical Engineering Researcher. Duane’s research expertise has focused upon functional materials development for the control, conversion, and release of process gases in Energy production technologies. His R&D interests include computational chemistry, developing novel technologies for converting biomass to fuels and studying their fundamental interactions during the chemical conversion process. His past experience includes sorbent development for pre- and post-combustion CO2 and SO2 capture, selective absorption of H2S from methane streams, O2 capture for oxy-fuel combustion, photocatalytic reduction of alcohols, NOx reduction catalysis, the development of oxygen carriers to combust fossil fuels (CH4 and coal) for the chemical looping combustion processes, and the extraction of rare earth elements using patent pending sorbents. His research expertise has focused on operando-characterization using Infrared, Raman, and UV-Vis spectroscopy to observe the nature of the catalytic active sites and reaction intermediates under realistic reaction conditions, allowing direct correlation of molecular/electronic structures with catalyst performance during Gas-Solid / Liquid-Solid Adsorption and Photocatalytic Processes with real time online analysis of reaction products using ICP-MS and mass spectrometry. His current work involves a multi-disciplinary approach to developing, understanding, and improving the catalytic gasification of coal and methane, high temperature chemical looping combustion, and the catalytic decomposition and gasification of biomass and coal using novel microwave reactor.​ He has been studying the Hebrew Scriptures and the Torah for 20+ years and sharing what he has learned. The studies developed for MATSATI.COM are freely to be used by everyone, to God be the Glory!