Electricity-conducting bacteria yield secret to tiny batteries

In a recent study at UVA, a group of researchers has discovered the process of how soil-living bacteria can conduct electricity. This particular discovery can pave the way for miniaturising electronic devices such as making nano-sized batteries, and other relevant medical breakthroughs. It was previously believed by scientists that this particular bacteria called Geobacter sulfurreducens conduct electricity through their hair-like protuberance called pili. But with the work of Dr Edward H Egelman, PhD, and his other co-authors, they’ve managed to deduce that this type of bacteria actually channel electricity through a coherent network of fibers made from a type of protein they’ve never seen before.
These fibers are around the fringe of a core with molecules that contain metal. The process is similar to an electrical cord that contains metallic wires. Although in the case of Geobacter sulfurreducens, these wires are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair and are invisible to the human eye.
“The technology to understand nanowires didn’t exist until about five years ago, when advances in cryo-electron microscopy allowed high resolution,” says Egelman of UVA.
“We have one of these instruments here at UVA, and, therefore, the ability to actually understand at the atomic level the structure of these filaments. … So this is just one of the many mysteries that we’ve now been able to solve using this technology, like the virus that can survive in boiling acid, and there will be others.”
The Geobacter bacteria have long captivated the interest of fellow scientists because of its organic wires, but it wasn’t until recently when they’ve discovered how the bacteria transmit electricity through these “nanowires.”
This type of bacteria uses these wires to rid themselves of excess electrons, a process quite similar to breather. The Geobacter bacteria can survive in an environment without oxygen, and it also has the ability to clean up radioactive waste.
So what could this recent discovery mean? Egelman and his team-mates are positive that it could be really useful in the research between living cells and electronics, where they could bridge the gap and invent remarkably useful devices such as pacemakers without wires.
The study was published in the scientific journal Cell.