Assuming a lithotrophic slime mold were to be created, which metabolized iron, carbon dioxide and sulphur, and released, how much damage would it do?

Let's say it was created to help manage landfills. One of the lab techs is checking on a specimen, party of the food deprivation test group, and noticed it had formed fruiting bodies. Unwittingly, they get some spores on their hand, and when they wash their hands at the end of the day, those spores are transferred into the sewers.

This slime mold has been engineered to reproduce quickly, and have a short lifespan. The scientists creating it wish it to simply consume all available food in a given landfill, then die off. After all, that way customers have to pay for another batch.

In conditions where food is plentiful, slime molds are a bunch of unassociated eukaryotes, munching away. But when food becomes more scarce, they gather, form fruiting bodies which release extremely light weight spores, they then go off in search of food. On mass, their sense of smell is more sensitive, and they can move much faster, about 8cm\minute.

Modelling their digestion off of real lithotrophic organisms, they first consume sulphur, and convert it into sulphuric acid, at which point they dissolve the iron, and consume it, as well as taking in carbon dioxide they require from the atmosphere or water.

I ask this question primarily out of curiosity, and so are not really looking for a world ending scenario. How much damage could an organism like this do to modern infrastructure before it was noticed, and if it was noticed, would there be an effective way to kill it off?

Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, The lithotroph the digestion is based off of: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acidithiobacillus

Slime Molds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slime_mold

Thank-you for taking the time to read my question, and hopefully comment or answer it.

  • $\begingroup$ What are the byproducts? Ferric sulfide (fool's gold)? $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2016 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ How about adding some links? Few people know what "real lithotrophic organisms" are like. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Apr 2, 2016 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ Here's a link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acidithiobacillus $\endgroup$
    – Lensman
    Apr 6, 2016 at 4:38

1 Answer 1


This sounds like one of those types of bacteria which are found in deep acidic caves, where nothing else lives.

Life is very competitive. If a new form of life comes along that's better, more efficient, at using available resources in the environment, then it will tend to crowd out the less efficient life forms.

There are a lot of exotic bacteria (and higher life forms) which only thrive in "nooks and crannies" where nothing else will grow... like those aforementioned deep caves. So why don't those life forms expand their range and take over everything? Because anywhere other than in those nooks and crannies, they'd have to compete with life forms which grow faster; life forms which out-compete them, crowd them out and cause them to die off. Those exotic bacteria have a slow metabolism, exploiting a rather low source of energy, and hence can't grow fast; can't grow as fast as more widespread bacteria which exploit food sources which release usable (to them) energy faster.

Now, I can't be sure that the bacteria you're describing would similarly be unable to compete in the wider environment, but I suspect that's true; I suspect that's one of those rare bacteria that are rarely found outside of, in this case, pyrite deposits ... and that's why it most likely wouldn't be an Andromeda Strain which would grow exponentially and consume the entire surface of the Earth... not even spreading through reinforced concrete, eating the rebar and causing all skyscrapers to crash to the ground.

HOWEVER, your question specifies "rapidly reproducing" and I see my answer is outside the bounds of that. So perhaps a better question is: "What sort of biochemistry could result in a bacteria which would rapidly dissolve iron?"


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