Scientist Dr. Jared Leadbetter rinsed a glass jar of pink manganese in the sink. Then he left it there to soak.
Ten weeks pass. Dr. Leadbetter returns to his California lab. He has two questions. “What is that dark stuff coating my jar . . . and who ate my manganese?”
Manganese is a hard metal that exists all over in Earth’s crust and surface. People use it to make steel and glass and strengthen the aluminum in soda cans. God designed animals and humans to carry trace amounts of manganese in their bodies to help bones develop and wounds heal. So manganese is nothing unusual or new. But a microbial creature that eats manganese for breakfast? That’s totally strange!
Researchers confirmed that the hard, dark metal in Dr. Leadbetter’s jar was oxidized manganese. Leadbetter thought fast—and decided not to wash the jar’s water down the sink. He kept the manganese-hungry culprits—tap water bacteria—trapped inside. Dr. Leadbetter and another scientist, Hang Yu, studied and named the novel creatures. Now Leadbetter and Yu are introducing the first bacteria ever known to get energy from manganese: Candidatus Manganitrophus noduliformans and Ramlibacter lithotrophicus.
The discovery could help solve some mysteries. More bacteria like these live in groundwater. Water systems often become clogged by manganese oxides—a problem the newfound bacteria may get the blame for. Another manganese head-scratcher the scientists present: Grapefruit-sized manganese oxide balls roll around the ocean floor. Perhaps these bacteria form them.
The manganese-munching bacteria are doing the work of decomposers—creatures that break down matter into new forms. Plants and animals die every day . . . but they don’t pile up. Decomposers break them down. Fungi, bacteria, earthworms, and insects all eat waste. These decomposers turn garbage into new, clean soil. In turn, decomposers get their recompense: energy. Once their work is done, energy can pass to other creatures in an ecosystem.
Jesus was talking about decomposers when He urged, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy.” (Matthew 6:19). Nothing in this world lasts forever. Beloved homes and possessions wear away. And yet our perfectly wise God made these destroyers recyclers too. Jesus promises to one day make all things new. But He has already started. Even now, many organisms and microorganisms are at work turning old into new.
Scientists have wondered for more than 100 years if manganese-eating bacteria might exist, and now they have found them by accident. Is there a lesson here? How about . . . Sometimes it pays to leave the dishes in the sink!