A species of bacteria that eats iron and turns it into magnetic particles could one day build your computer's memory.
Researchers at the University of Leeds have capitalized on the natural ability of the bacterium, Magnetospirillum magneticum, to eat atom-sized bits of iron and turn those bits into tiny magnets that it then stores inside itself. The nanometer-sized magnetic parts are similar to those used in today's hard drives. The finding could lead to bacteria producing electronic components to order.
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"We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines we've traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales. Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to circumvent this problem," team leader Sarah Staniland, from the university's School of Physics and Astronomy, told the BBC.
Magnetospirillum bacteria ordinarily live in shallow pools of water, which often has various elements dissolved in it. Using a special protein, the bacteria draw iron from the water and build the tiny bits of magnetite, one of the most highly magnetic natural materials. They use the magnets to align with Earth's magnetic field and orient themselves, which in turn helps them find areas that have oxygen levels they prefer.