A newly described species of bacteria has joined the ranks of those of us whodepend on caffeinefor survival. The little microbe,Pseudomonas putida, uses specialized enzymes to break the precious compound into carbon dioxide and ammonia, scientists say.
Previous research had noted microbial consumption of caffeine, which is found naturally in soil and in the seeds, leaves and fruit of several plants, serving as a natural pesticide. But this is the first time researchers figured out just how a microorganism breaks it down. The discovery of these specialized enzymes could help lead to treatments for various diseases, according to the American Society for Microbiology.
|In Wake of Four Loko Ban, Recycler Turns Caffeine-Spiked Booze into Biofuel|
|This Car Runs on Coffee, in the Name of Science|
|Coffee Aroma Alone Combats Sleep Deprivation|
That’s because byproducts of the caffeine breakdown process are natural building blocks for drugs used to treat asthma, improve blood flow and stabilize heart arrhythmias. These compounds are hard to produce in the lab, so using the bacteria’s special enzymes could simplify pharmaceutical production, microbiologists say.
Caffeine, for all its utility in keeping your eyes open throughout the day, is just a cluster of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. It is built of three methyl groups, which consist of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms each. The bacteria has enzymes that break down these methyl groups, allowing it to feast on the chemical constituents. The enzymes were named N-demethylase A and B.
Researchers isolated the genes they thought were responsible for producing these enzymes, and put the genes intoE. colito test them out. The bacteria produced NdmA and NdmB, according to a report inScientific American.
Researchers foundP. putidaliving in a flower bed at the University of Iowa.
“This work, for the first time, demonstrates the enzymes and genes utilized by bacteria to live on caffeine,” said doctoral researcher Ryan Summers, who presented his research at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.
It’s still unclear whether caffeine gives the bacteria afternoon jitters, however.
Think you live on caffeine? You’re still no match for a newly described bitty bacteria calledPseudomonas putida CBB5. These little guys can feast on pure caffeine all day—and presumably all night—long. And researchers have now located just how they accomplish this arguably admirable feat.
Celebrated and cursed, caffeine is actually an alluring blend of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, and the clever bacterium uses specialized enzymes as it “breaks caffeine down into carbon dioxide and ammonia,” Ryan Summers, a doctoral researcher in chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, said in a prepared statement.
Summers and his colleagues found these caffeine-feeding bacteria lolling in a flowerbed on the University of Iowa campus. Although that hardly seems like a logical place for such a stimulated species, Summers explained that it is far from jolting. “Due to the extensive presence of caffeine in the environment, it is not surprising that there are bacteria that can ‘eat’ this molecule for growth and reproduction,” he wrote in a summary of his new research, set to be presented May 24 at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.
And the finding could some day have implications outside of a highly caffeinated petri dish (although it’s unclear whether caffeine gets the bacteria just as hopped up as it does some humans). “This work, for the first time, demonstrates the enzymes and genes utilized by bacteria to live on caffeine,” Summers said, noting that previous research had located caffeine consumption in other microbe species before.
After isolating the suspected genes, the research team inserted them into E. colistrains, which then manufactured the caffeine-digesting enzymes (N-demethylase named NdmA and NdmB).
Summers and his collaborators noted that the enzymes might be useful to develop new medications to treat heart arrhythmias or asthma, or to boost blood flow. The bacteria-generated enzymes could also be scaled up to help break down excess caffeine generated by industry during decaf coffee and tea processing.
But back to living on caffeine: How soon can we expect to see coffee-to-go joints jumping into the research ring?
Credit: Julius Schorzman/Wikimedia Commons
- What a Jolt! Microbe Lives on Caffeine (livescience.com)
- The Bacteria That Live on Caffeine (neatorama.com)
- Bacteria Loves Caffeine Too (izabael.com)
- Bacteria use caffeine as food source (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- New Bacteria Lives on Caffeine (scientificamerican.com)
- Bacteria use caffeine as food source (eurekalert.org)
- Strain of Bacteria Can Survive on Caffeine Alone, Doesn’t Sleep (pcworld.com)
- New Bacterium Lives On Caffeine (science.slashdot.org)
- Caffeine-gobbling microbe found (cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com)
- A caffeine-gobbling microbe (cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com)