Bacteria live on caffeine

Researchers discover that some bugs crave the buzz of caffeine.

Tia Ghose
Jun 10, 2011

Coffee beansPUUIKIBEACH VIA FLICKR

And you thought you were addicted to coffee: researchers have found bacteria that actually live on caffeine, Newswise reports. Most bacteria can’t digest caffeine molecules because their nitrogen-rich cores are surrounded by three methyl groups. But University of Iowa researchers used gene sequence analysis to show that Pseudomonas putida CBB5 relies on four digestive proteins to strip off the methyl groups and feast on the nitrogen at the molecule’s heart. The chemical process could one day be used to turn waste from industrial tea and coffee processing into safe, decaffeinated animal feed, the researchers say. The enzymes could also be used to break the caffeine molecule down into the basic components of drugs to treat asthma and heart arrhythmias.