This could lead to more efficient microbial fuel cells

Scientists have found that clean electricity can be derived from bacteria thanks to an electron transfer method similar to that found in cells. 

The research was conducted by scientists from the University of East Anglia and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Dr. Tom Clarke from the University of East Anglia led the study. 

The research team used a synthetic version of Shewanella oneidensis, which is a member of a marine bacteria family. Proteins on the surface of this kind of bacteria are capable of generating an electric current just by contact with a mineral surface.

They took these proteins and placed them into lipid layers of vesicles -- tiny capsules of lipid membranes -- to see how well the electrons moved between a mineral's iron-based surface and the "electron donor" inside.

The team found that placing bacteria with these proteins on the surface of a metal or mineral will produce an electric charge through the bacteria's cell membranes. This has a lot of potential for the creation of microbial fuel cells -- or bio-batteries -- that are more efficient.

"We knew that bacteria can transfer electricity into metals and minerals, and that the interaction depends on special proteins on the surface of the bacteria," said Clarke. "But it was not been clear whether these proteins do this directly or indirectly though an unknown mediator in the environment.

"Our research shows that these proteins can directly 'touch' the mineral surface and produce an electric current, meaning that is possible for the bacteria to lie on the surface of a metal or mineral and conduct electricity through their cell membranes.

"These bacteria show great potential as microbial fuel cells, where electricity can be generated from the breakdown of domestic or agricultural waste products."

Clarke also mentioned that these bacteria could be used as tiny factories on an electrode's surface. This would allow chemical reactions to occur inside the cell with electrical power provided by the electrode through the proteins.

"We developed a unique system so we could mimic electron transfer like it happens in cells," said Biochemist Liang Shi of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "The electron transfer rate we measured was unbelievably fast -- it was fast enough to support bacterial respiration."

Source: Science Daily

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