Questions for “Bacterial ‘living wires’ could help protect the seas and climate”

dark field microscope images of long, thin cable bacteria filaments

Cable bacteria look like long, thin threads in this microscope image. To help the environment, scientists hope to harness the ability of these microbes to conduct electricity.

Steffen Larsen, Lars Riis Damgaard

To accompany “Bacterial ‘living wires’ could help protect the seas and climate


Before Reading:

1.  Bacteria live in soil, in our guts and pretty much anywhere you can find life. List at least three ways bacteria can affect us or their environment, including at least one role that is beneficial for people.

2. The bacteria described in this story can conduct electricity like the semiconductors found in computers and other electronics. What are some other organisms that use electrical signals or currents?

During Reading:

1.  What chemical makes the mud from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay so stinky?

2.  How do cable bacteria improve the bay environment for other organisms? What are two other environmental challenges that scientists hope cable bacteria may help with?

3.  What kind of food do cable bacteria look a bit like?

4.  In what ways are cable bacteria similar to batteries?

5.  What are two sources of the nutrients that can lead to blooms of algae in lakes and seas?

6.  What does it mean to find a layer of rust in ocean sediments, and how can that be a good thing for marine animals?

7.  Why is it difficult for the organisms that use hydrocarbons for fuel to clean up large oil spills?

8. In Ugo Marzocchi’s work, how did cable bacteria help overcome this limitation?

9. How can bacteria help make rice farms more environmentally friendly?

10. Why is it important to limit the release of methane gas?

After Reading:

1.  Based on the examples in the story, come up with another environment where cable bacteria might prove helpful for cleaning up pollution. Why would bacteria be helpful there? Use evidence from the story to support your answer.

2.  What are some of the things that scientists need to know before they recommend adding cable bacteria to farm soils and coastal areas as a way to help the environment?

Lillian Steenblik Hwang is the associate digital editor for Science News for Explores. She has a bachelor's degree in biology (and a minor in chemistry) from Georgia State University and a master's degree in in science journalism from Boston University.