Mutant bacteria can’t live without caffeine

You might think you’re a coffee addict, but you’ve got nothing on a new strain of bacteria that has caffeine addiction literally written into its genes.

The new type of E. Coli bacteria could save our rivers from the perils of your morning buzz.

I know what you’re thinking: E. Coli doesn’t have the best reputation. But this new strain has been specifically engineered to clean waterways of excess caffeine– and it can’t survive without the drug, according to Popular Science.

Why bother? It turns out that some scientists are concerned about how humans’ caffeine addictions might be throwing off the ecosystem — though research on the subject is still hazy. About three percent of the caffeine from the coffee you drink ends up in the sewer system, according to this article on LiveScience.

Last year, scientists reported that they had found high levels of caffeine in the ocean off the coast of the Pacific Northwest –the birthplace of Starbucks Coffee, of course. No one seems to know caffeine’s effect on the ecosystem, though scientists have found that mussels exhibit signs of stress when exposed to caffeine.

My take: Pumping high amounts of a psychoactive drug into the ecosystem doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for harmony in nature. It sounds like a recipe for sleep-deprived fish. Save us from our own addictions, ye mutant bacteria!

By the way, tracking caffeine levels is helpful for other reasons, too. Caffeine is clearly linked to human sewage– so when they find high levels of caffeine, it’s a good indicator that those waterways are also contaminated with fecal bacteria, according to the LiveScience article.

Coffee addict image by TJ Cosgrove, Flickr Creative Commons.


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