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Using microbes to generate electricity?

Date:
May 25, 2011
Source:
University of East Anglia
Summary:
Using bacteria to generate energy is a significant step closer following a breakthrough discovery. Researchers now demonstrate for the first time the exact molecular structure of the proteins which enable bacterial cells to transfer electrical charge.

Shewanella oneidensis.
Credit: Gross L (2006) Cultivating Bacteria's Taste for Toxic Waste. PLoS Biol 4(8): e282. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040282

Using bacteria to generate energy is a significant step closer following a breakthrough discovery by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published May 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research demonstrates for the first time the exact molecular structure of the proteins which enable bacterial cells to transfer electrical charge.

The discovery means scientists can now start developing ways to 'tether' bacteria directly to electrodes -- creating efficient microbial fuel cells or 'bio-batteries'. The advance could also hasten the development of microbe-based agents that can clean up oil or uranium pollution, and fuel cells powered by human or animal waste.

"This is an exciting advance in our understanding of how some bacterial species move electrons from the inside to the outside of a cell," said Dr Tom Clarke of UEA's School of Biological Sciences.

"Identifying the precise molecular structure of the key proteins involved in this process is a crucial step towards tapping into microbes as a viable future source of electricity."

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the US Department of Energy, the project is led by Dr Clarke, Prof David Richardson and Prof Julea Butt of UEA, in collaboration with colleagues at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US.

In earlier research published by PNAS in 2009, the team demonstrated the mechanism by which bacteria survive in oxygen-free environments by constructing electrical wires that extend through the cell wall and make contact with a mineral -- a process called iron respiration or 'breathing rocks'.

In this latest research, the scientists used a technique called x-ray crystallography to reveal the molecular structure of the proteins attached to the surface of a Shewanella oneidensis cell through which electrons are transferred.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of East Anglia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas A. Clarke, Marcus J. Edwards, Andrew J. Gates, Andrea Hall, Gaye F. White, Justin Bradley, Catherine L. Reardon, Liang Shi, Alexander S. Beliaev, Matthew J. Marshall, Zheming Wang, Nicholas J. Watmough, James K. Fredrickson, John M. Zachara, Julea N. Butt and David J. Richardson. Structure of a bacterial cell surface decaheme electron conduit. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1017200108

Cite This Page:

University of East Anglia. "Using microbes to generate electricity?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523152337.htm>.
University of East Anglia. (2011, May 25). Using microbes to generate electricity?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523152337.htm
University of East Anglia. "Using microbes to generate electricity?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110523152337.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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