(Photo courtesy of Quartz.Com)
If you thought you needed coffee to live, that’s nothing compared to a new bacteria created in a Texas laboratory. This bacteria actually needs caffeine to live and reproduce.
Jeffrey Barrick, a biochemist at the University of Texas who collaborated on the project, states “The major application is that whenever you are processing coffee berries, you are left with a lot of nutrient-rich plant material. But because of the plants’ high caffeine levels, they are also really toxic—the bacteria could help turn that plant material into nutritious livestock feed,”
The hydrogen and carbon in the caffeine combine to make three methyl groups, these methyl groups are then targeted by the bacteria. They break down the enzymes in order to reach the methyl group and make DNA bases that they need in order to survive. For example, if this bacteria was placed in a carbonated drink, it would take the bacteria basically no time at all to break down the enzymes and turn the drink into a decaffeinated one.
Scientists on the project used naturally created bacterium that eat caffeine in order to create their new bacteria. The bacteria they used is called Pseudomonas Putida CBB5, and it was found in a flower bed in the University of Iowa in 2011. Initially, scientists thought this bacterial discovery could be used in environmental clean up efforts, unfortunately the bacteria proved unreliable.
After this failure, Barrick and his team decided to insert gene clusters that were responsible for making caffeine-degrading enzymes in the CBB5 bacteria into a harmless strain of E.Coli. These attempts failed to produce results, however when they added a protein from a species of soil bacteria, they were able to accurately measure the amounts of caffeine in Redbull, Monster, Starbucks espresso, and Diet Coke dependent on the growth of the bacteria. “We basically created a little biosensor that replicates itself cheaply,” says Barrick. “All you have to do is provide it with a little bit of food and you get copies of this thing.”
This could actually be a very important discovery as there are constantly increasing levels of caffeine pollution throughout the world due to decaf coffee production and human waste. This synthetic bacteria could potentially be used for some environmental clean up.
Barrick has another idea for its uses as well, “It will be fun to see high school students use the bacteria to measure caffeine levels for science fair projects.”