Opening of the Centre for Electromicrobiology

A new basic research centre – the Centre for Electromicrobiology – was officially opened on 1 December at an event in the Lakeside Lecture Theatres. The Danish National Research Foundation is financing the centre with an initial grant of DKK 56 million.

2017.12.04 | Peter F. Gammelby

Professor Lars Peter Nielsen flanked by Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen and Professor Liselotte Højgaard, chair of the Danish National Research Foundation. Photo: Peter F. Gammelby, Aarhus University

Head of Department Hans Brix, Department of Bioscience, welcomes both CEM and guests to the lecture theatre. Photo: Lise Balsby

Professor Lars Peter Nielsen demonstrates how long the cable bacteria can become. Photo: Lise Balsby

Professor Liselotte Højgaard, chair of the Danish National Research Foundation, is pleased with the new basic research centre – and is certain that CEM will be worth the DKK 56 million, even if the researchers are unable to find answers to all of the questions. Photo: Lise Balsby

The Centre for Electromicrobiology (CEM) will carry out further research into the mystery of cable bacteria. There have become more and more of them – i.e. mysteries – since Lars Peter Nielsen and his group discovered the conductive bacteria in the sea bed in the Port of Aarhus.

The discovery was surprising because cable bacteria can conduct electrons just like electrical cables, thereby absorbing oxygen at one end and ingesting food at the other. Where all the cells in our bodies must have both oxygen and nutrients, the cells in cable bacteria can share the work.

At the opening ceremony, Professor and Centre Director Lars Peter Nielsen listed the most important questions the centre will be addressing: 

 

  • How can a living biological structure act as an effective electrical wire? Nobody knows the answer yet.
  • Metabolism. How do cable bacteria distribute energy between the cells, and how do they use energy?
  • How are other organisms involved? Cable bacteria presumably make up the core of previously unknown electrical ecosystems, where many other microorganisms make use of the cable bacteria’s smart short cut to oxygen.

“Cable bacteria are no doubt popular among other bacteria, which crowd around them. At least as long as electricity is being conducted through them. The party’s over if you cut through the cable. We still run into surprises in our research. So if you ask where we’ll be ten years from now, I’d reply that we probably won’t have found all the answers,” said Professor Nielsen.

Appropriate motto

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology, pointed out in his speech that Aarhus University’s motto Solidum petit in profundis (Seek a firm footing in the depths) fits the new basic research centre perfectly.

“Not just because scientists at the Centre for Electromicrobiology carry out research into cable bacteria in the sea bed, but also because this is solid basic research that is firmly rooted at Aarhus University,” he said in his opening speech.

He highlighted the university’s deep roots in marine microbiology, which goes back to 1968, “when Aarhus University appointed Tom Fenchel as professor, and thereby acknowledged his extensive and ground-breaking research in the eternally fascinating microbial life in foul lagoons and on smelly beaches. He also took on Bo Barker Jørgensen as his first MSc student. Professor Jørgensen recently celebrated his 10th anniversary with his basic research centre – the Centre for Geomicrobiology. And Lars Peter Nielsen was an MSc student under Professor Jørgensen,” said Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen.

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