Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UMass Amherst research team discovers new conducting properties of bacteria-produced wires

08.08.2011
The discovery of a fundamental, previously unknown property of microbial nanowires in the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens that allows electron transport across long distances could revolutionize nanotechnology and bioelectronics, says a team of physicists and microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Their findings reported in the Aug. 7 advance online issue of Nature Nanotechnology may one day lead to cheaper, nontoxic nanomaterials for biosensors and solid state electronics that interface with biological systems.

Lead microbiologist Derek Lovley with physicists Mark Tuominen, Nikhil Malvankar and colleagues, say networks of bacterial filaments, known as microbial nanowires because they conduct electrons along their length, can move charges as efficiently as synthetic organic metallic nanostructures, and they do it over remarkable distances, thousands of times the bacterium's length.

Networks of microbial nanowires coursing through biofilms, which are cohesive aggregates of billions of cells, give this biological material conductivity comparable to that found in synthetic conducting polymers, which are used commonly in the electronics industry.

Lovley says, "The ability of protein filaments to conduct electrons in this way is a paradigm shift in biology and has ramifications for our understanding of natural microbial processes as well as practical implications for environmental clean-up and the development of renewable energy sources."

The discovery represents a fundamental change in understanding of biofilms, Malvankar adds. "In this species, the biofilm contains proteins that behave like a metal, conducting electrons over a very long distance, basically as far as you can extend the biofilm."

Tuominen, the lead physicist, adds, "This discovery not only puts forward an important new principle in biology but in materials science. We can now investigate a range of new conducting nanomaterials that are living, naturally occurring, nontoxic, easier to produce and less costly than man-made. They may even allow us to use electronics in water and moist environments. It opens exciting opportunities for biological and energy applications that were not possible before."

The researchers report that this is the first time metallic-like conduction of electrical charge along a protein filament has been observed. It was previously thought that such conduction would require a mechanism involving a series of other proteins known as cytochromes, with electrons making short hops from cytochrome to cytochrome. By contrast, the UMass Amherst team has demonstrated long-range conduction in the absence of cytochromes. The Geobacter filaments function like a true wire.

In nature, Geobacter use their microbial nanowires to transfer electrons onto iron oxides, natural rust-like minerals in soil, that for Geobacter serve the same function as oxygen does for humans. "What Geobacter can do with its nanowires is akin to breathing through a snorkel that's 10 kilometers long," says Malvankar.

The UMass Amherst group had proposed in a 2005 paper in Nature that Geobacter's nanowires might represent a fundamental new property in biology, but they didn't have a mechanism, so were met with considerable skepticism. To continue experimenting, Lovley and colleagues took advantage of the fact that in the laboratory Geobacter will grow on electrodes, which replace the iron oxides. On electrodes, the bacteria produce thick, electrically conductive biofilms. In a series of studies with genetically modified strains, the researchers found the metallic-like conductivity in the biofilm could be attributed to a network of nanowires spreading throughout the biofilm.

These special structures are tunable in a way not seen before, the UMass Amherst researchers found. Tuominen points out that it's well known in the nanotechnology community that artificial nanowire properties can be changed by altering their surroundings. Geobacter's natural approach is unique in allowing scientists to manipulate conducting properties by simply changing the temperature or regulating gene expression to create a new strain, for example. Malvankar adds that by introducing a third electrode, a biofilm can act like a biological transistor, able to be switched on or off by applying a voltage.

Another advantage Geobacter offers is its ability to produce natural materials that are more eco-friendly and quite a bit less expensive than man-made. Quite a few of today's nanotech materials are expensive to produce, many requiring rare elements, says Tuominen. Geobacter is a true natural alternative. "As someone who studies materials, I see the nanowires in this biofilm as a new material, one that just happens to be made by nature. It's exciting that it might bridge the gap between solid state electronics and biological systems. It is biocompatible in a way we haven't seen before."

Lovley quips, "We're basically making electronics out of vinegar. It can't get much cheaper or more 'green' than that."

Finally, this is a story about cross-disciplinary collaboration, which is much harder to accomplish than it sounds, Lovley says. "We were very lucky to have flexible funding from the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation that allowed us to follow some hunches. Also, it took a physics doctoral student brave enough to come over to microbiology to work with something wet and slimy." That student, Nikhil Malvankar, now is a postdoctoral researcher who with Lovley and Tuominen will continue exploring what gives Geobacter's protein filaments their unique electrical properties.

Contact: Janet Lathrop, 413/545-0444; jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
Derek Lovley, 413/695-1690; dlovley@microbio.umass.edu
Mark Tuominen, 413/545-1944; tuominen@physics.umass.edu
Nikhil Malvankar, 413/313-3179; nikhil@physics.umass.edu
Photos are available at: www.geobacter.org and at: www.umass.edu/newsoffice/

Janet Lathrop | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umass.edu
http://www.geobacter.org
http://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water world
20.11.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis

nachricht Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity
20.11.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Antarctic landscape insights keep ice loss forecasts on the radar

20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

Filling the gap: High-latitude volcanic eruptions also have global impact

20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

Water world

20.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>