Leptothrix discophora: homegrown

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The iron oxidising bacterium Leptothrix discophora forms beautiful, fragile and iridescent oil-like films on the surfaces of natural waters rich in iron. Often mistaken for pollution and oil spills, these films are an entirely natural phenomenon. I decided to try my hand at growing this bacteria at home, and simply threw a handful of iron nails into a bucket of collected rain water. Just over a month later, and I have a thriving and iridescent surface community of Leptothrix discophora. I simply provided an appropriate niche, which the bacteria found an exploited. How did they find it? Were they wind blown or were they present in the rain itself?

3 thoughts on “Leptothrix discophora: homegrown

  1. Wonderful! I’ve been thinking about growing my own, too—for years—but somehow never tried it! Did the colors ever become more intense? I’ve seen it grow on the water collected in an unused iron bird bath left on our porch, but the water dried up before the biofilm even got as colorful as yours.

    • Thanks for this Linda! This was about as good as the colours got, before it rained and the bucket over flowed! I’ve seen these biofilms in drains along the sides of roads. Presumably iron from the grating leaches into the standing drain water beneath.

      • I saw it once in a parking lot, where I was sure it was an oil spill until I got much closer and saw that the film was fragmented. It had been raining, and I’d guess that the iron washed out from the surrounding soil.

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