The bacteria, Shewanella, are commonly found in water and soil and are of interest because they can convert simple organic compounds (such as lactic acid) into electricity, according to Daniel Bond and Jeffrey Gralnick, of the University of Minnesota's BioTechnology Institute and department of microbiology, who led the research effort.
"This is very exciting because it solves a fundamental biological puzzle," Bond said. "Scientists have known for years that Shewanella produce electricity. Now we know how they do it."
The discovery means Shewanella can produce more power simply by increased riboflavin levels. Also, the finding opens up multiple possibilities for innovations in renewable energy and environmental clean-up. The research is published in the March 3 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The interdisciplinary research team, which included several students, showed that bacteria growing on electrodes naturally produced riboflavin. Because riboflavin was able to carry electrons from the living cells to the electrodes, rates of electricity production increased by 370 percent as riboflavin accumulated.
Scaled-up "microbial fuel cells" using similar bacteria could generate enough electricity to clean up wastewater or power remote sensors on the ocean floor.
"Bacteria could help pay the bills for a wastewater treatment plant," Bond said.
But more ambitious applications, such as electricity for transportation, homes or businesses, will require significant advances in biology and in the cost-effectiveness of fuel cell materials.
Why do these bacteria produce electricity? In nature, bacteria such as Shewanella need to access and dissolve metals such as iron. Having the ability to direct electrons to metals allows them to change their chemistry and availability.
"Bacteria have been changing the chemistry of the environment for billions of years," said Gralnick. "Their ability to make iron soluble is key to metal cycling in the environment and essential to most life on earth."
The process could be reversed to prevent corrosion of iron and other metals on ships. Bond and Gralnick were each recently awarded funding from the U.S. Navy to explore this and other potential applications.
This research was funded by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Cargill.
The university's BioTechnology Institute is co-sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences and the Institute of Technology.
Patty Mattern | EurekAlert!
New way to look at cell membranes could change the way we study disease
19.11.2018 | University of Oxford
Controlling organ growth with light
19.11.2018 | European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
19.11.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.11.2018 | Information Technology
19.11.2018 | Life Sciences