Can bacteria be addicted to caffeine?

Bacteria Basics Read more from
Chapter Bacteria, Viruses, and Protists

Yes, bacteria can be addicted to caffeine—but in this case it’s because scientists have been playing with bacteria and genetics. In 2013, researchers genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to live on caffeine, causing the small creatures to become addicted. This isn’t just to make humans feel better—many people are addicted to caffeine, too—but because scientists found that caffeine and related chemical compounds have become water pollutants due to the widespread consumption of coffee, soda pop, tea, energy drinks, some medications, and chocolate. The scientists knew that a natural soil bacterium, Pseudomonas putida CBB5, actually lives solely on caffeine and could be used to clean up contamination from caffeine. Thus, they took the genetic “information” from the caffeine-loving bacteria and put it into the E. coli—a bacteria that is much easier to handle and grow. They hope to use this new caffeine addict not only to break down caffeine in the environment, but as a possible sensor to measure caffeine levels in beverages, recover nutrient-rich by-products of coffee processing—and even help in the production of medicine.


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