RICHLAND, Wash. – Some bacteria shoot out tendrils that conduct electricity. Now, researchers have determined the structure of one variety of bacterial nanowire, and found the wires are distinct from common bacterial hairs that they closely resemble.
The results will help scientists understand how bacteria build up or break down minerals, and help researchers harness the bacteria to make microbial fuel cells, batteries, or to turn waste into electricity.
Appearing later this week online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, the work was led by Moh El-Naggar at the University of Southern California. Contributors included researchers from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Penn State, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute.
To determine what the nanowires are made of, researchers used genetics and molecular biology to narrow down the proteins involved. They found that rather than the expected bacterial hair proteins, the nanowires comprised specialized proteins called cytochromes that shuttle electrons. PNNL researchers helped make the cytochromes fluoresce in cells, allowing the team to show they are located in the wires.
This work was supported by the Air Force, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institutes of Health.