Manganese-metabolizing Bacteria Discovered by Accident!

Manganese-metabolizing Bacteria Discovered by Accident!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

(Romans 8:22)
Bacteria that eat manganese
SEM micrograph of Manganese Oxide lumps, metabolized by bacteria (Hang Yu / CalTech photo credit)

What did your mother tell you to eat, so that you could grow as you should? Amazingly, according to new research published in the journal Nature, some bacteria need manganese as a dietary nutrient, in order to grow.(1),(2)  And the discovery of these manganese-metabolizing bacteria discovery was accidental.

Scientists have discovered the first bacteria known to use the metal manganese to grow. And the researchers had to look only as far as the office sink. “It’s definitely an interesting story about serendipity,” says Jared Leadbetter, an environmental microbiologist at Caltech. He and Hang Yu, also an environmental microbiologist at Caltech, report their fortuitous find in the July 16 2020 issue of the journal] Nature.(1)

[Carolyn Beans citation below]

Everything new, that we learn about bacteria (and other microörganisms), should prompt us to be astounded at the interactive systems design, teleological logic, and intricate details that God has built into these microscopic marvels.(3)  

Likewise, the recent study of manganese—on the ocean floor—has shown that manganese is more remarkable than most folks would imagine.(4)

In this case, the discovery was unexpected. So, how did this microbiological discovery occur?

Leadbetter had been working with a pink compound called manganese carbonate [MnCO3, also called manganese(II) carbonate] in a glass jar. After having trouble cleaning the jar, he filled it with tap water and left it to soak. When he returned 10 weeks later, after an out-of-town teaching stint, the contents of the jar had transformed into a dark, crusty material. Leadbetter knew that scientists had long suspected that bacteria could use manganese to fuel growth. … “Maybe I better not pour this down the sink,” he thought.(1)

[Beans citation below]

So Leadbetter and his research partner, Hang Yu, devised experiments to determine how the manganese was being metabolized, as chemical “food” (i.e., fuel for energy).

Over a century ago, researchers discovered that bacteria could borrow electrons from chemical elements like nitrogen, sulfur, iron — and manganese. In some cases, bacteria could even use these electrons to fuel growth in much the same way that humans use electrons from carbohydrates in the diet for energy. But no one had identified [specific] bacteria that could [metabolically] turn electrons from manganese into energy.(1)

[Beans citation below]

We re-examined the possibility that previously unappreciated microorganisms from the environment might oxidize Mn(II) for energy. We coated a glass jar with a slurry of Mn(II)CO3 and allowed it to dry, before filling it with municipal tap water from Pasadena (California, USA) and leaving it to incubate at room temperature. After several months, the cream-coloured carbonate coating had oxidized to a dark manganese oxide. We serially transferred the material into a defined medium, which led to the establishment of a stable in vitro culture.  … Because manganese oxides have previously been suggested to contribute to the chemical auto-oxidation of Mn(II)20, we inoculated other replicate flasks with a steam-sterilized subculture with oxide products. Even after a year, oxidation had not occurred in uninoculated flasks or flasks containing the steam-sterilized inocula, as predicted by the known chemical stability of MnCO3 under these conditions. However, within four weeks, the flasks inoculated with ‘viable material’ had generated dark, adherent manganese oxides.(2) 

[Hang Yu & Jared Leadbetter citation below]

So, was this processing of manganese really microbiological metabolism? Yes, the researchers concluded.

Oxidation [of the manganese carbonate] required O2 and occurred at temperatures up to 42°C; oxidation occurring optimally between 34°C to 40°C, consistent with catalysis being enzymatic [i.e., metabolically oriented].(2)

[Yu & Leadbetter citation below]
Epifluorescence microscope image of manganese bacteria
Manganese-metabolizing bacteria, found on Manganese Oxide
(Hang Yu & Jared Leadbetter epifluorescence microscopy image)
The 2 newly discovered bacteria are colorized as magenta and green.

Manganese carbonate occurs (and can be mined) as rhodochrosite, though it is usually fabricated industrially. When manganese carbonate decomposes it yield carbon dioxide and manganese dioxide, in what is called an oxidation reaction. But this time manganese carbonate was recognized as a medium metabolized—via an oxidation reaction—to fuel and to grow a special bacterium, Ramlibacter lithotrophicus.(1),(2)

When bacteria do borrow electrons from manganese, they convert the metal to a dark material called manganese oxide. Manganese oxide is found all over the planet — from deposits in Earth’s crust to the seafloor to drinking water. And, as it turned out, in Leadbetter’s glass jar.(1)

[Beans citation below]

Could there be any practical benefit form investigating this further? Yes, the researchers say, because it might help us to mitigate some situations involving water pollution.

The findings could help researchers manage manganese oxide that pollutes drinking water, says Amy Pruden, an environmental scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, who was not involved in the study. “Now that we have an idea of who the manganese oxidizers are, we can start looking for them in drinking water systems and maybe we can find better controls.”(1)

[Beans citation below]

Maybe so. Whenever newly discovered information helps us to better serve as managing stewards of God’s earth, which is one of mankind’s God-assigned responsibilities, it is a “win” for all of us.(5),(6)

Meanwhile, this discovery is yet another example of how intricately God has designed and constructed microscopic life-forms, such as bacteria, to actively participate in biogeochemical processes and cycles that enable the totality of Earth’s physical circumstances to operate, according to God’s plan—even for this fallen (“groaning”) world.(3),(5),(6)

Yes, God has the biodiversity of whole world in His hands—even the manganese-metabolizing bacteria, demonstrating how God values variety!(7),(8)

Bacteria that eat manganese
MANGANESE LUMPS metabolically produced by bacteria (Hang Yu / CalTech photo credit)


  1. Beans, C. 2020. Scientists stumbled across the first known manganese-fueled bacteria. Science News (July 21, 2020), posted at .
  2. Yu., H., and J. R. Leadbetter. 2020. Bacterial Chemolithoautotrophy via Manganese Oxidation. Nature. 583:453-458 (July 16, 2020), posted at . The formal announcement of the discovery, by Hang Yu and Jared R. Leadbetter, was microbiological specific: “The oxidation of manganese has long been theorized1—yet has not been demonstrated—to fuel the growth of chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms. Here we refine an enrichment culture that exhibits exponential growth dependent on Mn(II) oxidation to a co-culture of two microbial species. Oxidation required viable bacteria at permissive temperatures, which resulted in the generation of small nodules of manganese oxide with which the cells associated. The majority member of the culture—which we designate ‘Candidatus Manganitrophus noduliformans’—is affiliated to the phylum Nitrospirae (also known as Nitrospirota), but is distantly related to known species of Nitrospira and Leptospirillum. We isolated the minority member, a betaproteobacterium that does not oxidize Mn(II) alone, and designate it Ramlibacter lithotrophicus. Stable-isotope probing revealed 13CO2 fixation into cellular biomass that was dependent upon Mn(II) oxidation. Transcriptomic analysis revealed candidate pathways for coupling extracellular manganese oxidation to aerobic energy conservation and autotrophic CO2 fixation. These findings expand the known diversity of inorganic metabolisms that support life, and complete a biogeochemical energy cycle for manganese, that may interface with other major global elemental cycles.”
  3. ICR’s biologist Frank Sherwin has analyzed how microscopic bacteria demonstrate God’s providential genius, whether we know it or not. “Nitric oxide signaling [used by gut bacteria inhabiting the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans] is one more fascinating discovery regarding our designed microbe interface system and the microbiome. Evolution has nothing to do with this critical symbiotic relationship. … Nitric oxide signaling was clearly designed.” [Quoting Sherwin, F. J. 2019. The Molecular Language of our Gut Bacteria. Creation Science Update (March 28, 2019), posted at .]  Professor Sherwin emphasizes that humble bacteria (and other microbes) are continuously exhibiting God’s glory, even in the fallen world. “This symbiotic cooperation is hardly the war-like paradigm of microbe-human relations described by evolutionists and even some creationists. Research at ICR views the trillions of microbes in our microbiome as creatures designed by God to work in harmonious relationships with other organisms and body systems.” [Quoting Sherwin, F. J. 2018. How Bacteria Help our Bodies Survive. Creation Science Update (July 26, 2018), posted at .]
  4. Manganese nodules corroborate the Genesis account of the global Flood. See Hebert, J. 2015. Manganese Nodule Discovery Points to Genesis Flood. Creation Science Update (March 5, 2015), posted at . See also, regarding the relevance of manganese nodules for estimating Earth’s age, Hebert. 2020. Manganese Nodules Inconsistent with Radiometric Dating. Creation Science Update (January 30, 2020), posted at .
  5. Matthew 6:28b-29; Luke 12:27.  Investigating God’s world is a prerequisite to serving as a responsible steward thereof. See Tomkins, J. P., and J. J. S. Johnson.  2020. The Gospels Affirm the Dominion Mandate for Research. Acts & Facts. 49(2):10, posted at . See also Johnson, J. J. S.  2020. It’s Bluebonnet Season! Creation Science Update (April 3, 2020), posted at .  
  6. Genesis 9:1-7; Revelation 4:11; Psalm 148. See also Psalm 24:1, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10:26.  Taking scientific knowledge learned—and applying it to solve real-world problems in ways that honor God—is another aspect of our obligation to comply with the Genesis Mandate. See Johnson, J. J. S.  2013. Acts & Facts. 42(6):18-19, posted at . See also Johnson, J. J. S. 2013. Fulfilling the Genesis Mandate while Helping the Poor. Acts & Facts. 42(12):19, posted at .
  7. God loves variety, so it is unsurprising to see it displayed so prolifically throughout His macroscopic and microscopic creation. See Johnson, J. J. S.  2012. Valuing God’s Variety. Acts & Facts. 41(9):8-9, posted at .
  8. God’s providential biodiversity is quite resilient, as is illustrated when calamity-disturbed communities “bounce back” to restored ecosystem equilibria.  See Sherwin, F. J.  2001. Restoration Ecology. Acts & Facts. 30(2), posted at .

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