Nanowire & Swamp Surprises


An artist’s rendition of Geobacter expressing electrically conductive nanowires. Credit: UMass Amherst

Thanks to Anthropocene for a great title to this summary of important recent research finding:

From the swamps of the Potomac, new hope for green electronics

Protein filaments just 3 nanometers wide that are produced by certain species of bacteria could be a key to environmentally friendly electronics manufacturing, according to microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Scientists discovered the filaments, dubbed “nanowires,” about 5 years ago. Bacteria use them to make electrical connections with other bacterial cells or to generate reactions with metals in the environment.

The new study, supported by the US Office of Naval Research, is part of a larger effort to investigate the electrical conducting ability of nanowires from different species of bacteria. For example, Geobacter sulfurreducens produces nanowires that are moderately conductive. Nanowires from a related species, G. uraniireducens, are about 100 times less efficient at conducting electricity.

Now researchers have tested the conductivity of nanowires from a third Geobacter species, G. metallireducens. “I isolated metallireducens from mud in the Potomac River 30 years ago, and every couple of years it gives us a new surprise,” says study leader Derek Lovley.

…Either way, growing nanowires in bacteria promises to be a much greener option than manufacturing similar components by traditional techniques. The nanowires “can be sustainably produced without harsh chemical processes from renewable feedstocks and…contain no toxic components in the final product,” the researchers write.

Source: Tan Y et al. “Expressing the Geobacter metallireducens PilA in Geobacter sulfurreducens Yields Pili with Exceptional Conductivity.” mBio2017.

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