Surprising Bacterial Nanowire Discovery May Lead to Living and Self-Repairing Electrical Circuits

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Bacteria Producing Cytochrome OmcS Nanowires

Bacteria producing nanowires made up of cytochrome OmcS. Credit: Ella Maru Studio

Cooling Speeds Up Electrons in Bacterial Nanowires

The ground beneath our feet and under the ocean floor is an electrically-charged grid created by bacteria “exhaling” excess electrons through tiny nanowires in an oxygen-depleted environment. By identifying the mechanism of electron flow, <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Yale University
Established in 1701, Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. It is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and is organized into fourteen constituent schools: the original undergraduate college, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and twelve professional schools. It is named after British East India Company governor Elihu Yale.
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” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>Yale University researchers have been studying ways to improve this natural electrical conductivity within nanowires 1/100,000th the width of a human hair.

In a new study published today (May 11, 2022) in Science Advances, a team led by graduate student Peter Dahl with Nikhil Malvankar, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry in the Microbial Sciences Institute, and Victor Batista, Professor of Chemistry, found that nanowires move 10 billion electrons per second without any energy loss. This research explains the remarkable capacity of these bacteria to send electrons over long distances.

The researchers also found that cooling the environment around the nanowires of the bacteria Geobacter 

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from room temperature to freezing increases conductivity 300-fold. This is very surprising because cooling typically freezes electrons and slows them down in organic materials. By combining experiments with theory, the researchers found that colder temperatures restructure hydrogen bonds and flatten heme proteins within nanowires, thus enhancing the flow of electricity.

Leveraging this naturally occurring electrical grid might one day lead to the development of living and self-repairing electrical circuits, new sources of electricity, and bioremediation strategies.  

Reference: “300-fold conductivity increase in microbial cytochrome nanowires due to temperature-induced restructuring of hydrogen bonding networks” 11 May 2022, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7193

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Other authors include Sophia Yi, Yangqi Gu, Catharine Shipps, Jens Neu, Patrick O’Brien, Dennis Vu and Sibel Ebru Yalcin from the Malvankar Lab, and Atanu Acharya, Uriel Morzan, and Subhajyoti Chaudhuri from the Batista Lab.

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