• Question: What do bacteria eat?

    Asked by kimberley10 to Bethany, Hannah, Keith, Peter on 25 Jun 2014.
    • Photo: Hannah Tanner

      Hannah Tanner answered on 25 Jun 2014:


      Bacteria can eat almost anything!

      Different types of bacteria live on different things:
      Some are phototrophs (light eaters) – they can make their own energy from light like plants do by photosynthesis.
      Some are chemotrophs (chemical eaters) – they have to take in chemicals that they can oxidise to make energy.
      The chemicals that can be used by chemotrophs are really diverse. Some can use inorganic chemicals and are called lithotrophs (rock eaters). Some use organic chemicals made by other living things and are called organotrophs (life eaters).

      The fact that there are bacteria out there that “eat” most things can be used for bioremediation like using bacteria to eat oil in oil spills. When I was doing my undergraduate project some of my colleagues were trying to find bacteria to break down marshmallow waste from a biscuit factory!

    • Photo: Bethany Dearlove

      Bethany Dearlove answered on 25 Jun 2014:


      Great question! Bacteria can feed on many different things. Their eating habits are split up in to three broad categories:
      ~ Phototrophs, which get their energy from light from the sun.
      ~ Lithotrophs, which get their energy from inorganic substances including sulphur, iron and nitrogen.
      ~ Organotrophs, which get their energy from organic substances (organic meaning that they have carbon in).
      Since they don’t have mouth, bacteria absorb their nutrients through channels in the walls of their cell membranes.

    • Photo: Peter Elliott

      Peter Elliott answered on 25 Jun 2014:


      The chances are if you took all the bacteria in the world (clearly a hypothetical situation) and put them on any organic item then some of those bacteria would be able to break it down and then other bacteria may then feed off the material that the first bacteria excrete or simply dont use.

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