Navigation Links
Biological wires carry electricity thanks to special amino acids
Date:3/11/2013

Slender bacterial nanowires require certain key amino acids in order to conduct electricity, according to a study to be published in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, on Tuesday, March 12.

In nature, the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens uses these nanowires, called pili, to transport electrons to remote iron particles or other microbes, but the benefits of these wires can also be harnessed by humans for use in fuel cells or bioelectronics. The study in mBio reveals that a core of aromatic amino acids are required to turn these hair-like appendages into functioning electron-carrying biological wires.

"It's the aromatic amino acids that make it a wire," says lead author Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Lovley and his colleagues removed the pivotal amino acids from the pili and replaced them with smaller, non-aromatic amino acids. Without these key components, Lovley says, the pili are nothing more than protein strings. "We showed it's not good enough to just make the string - you've got to make a wire," says Lovley.

G. sulfurreducens "breathes" by removing electrons from organic materials and funneling them to iron oxides or to other microorganisms, much the way humans pull electrons out of organic molecules in food and dump them on oxygen. The bacteria use their pili to reach out to iron oxides or other microbes, transferring the "waste" electrons along the structure to the destination. Geobacter's pili are only 3-5 nanometers wide, but they can be 20 micrometers long, many times longer than the cell itself.

Trafficking in electrons is how all living things breathe, but it is normally carried out by discrete proteins or other molecules that act like containers for shuttling electrons from one place to another. Lovley says earlier results showed the pili in G. sulfurreducens possess metallic-like conductivity, the ability to carry electrons along a continuous structure, a controversial finding in biology.

To investigate how pili accomplish this singular feat, Lovley says they looked to non-biological organic materials that can conduct electricity. "In those synthetic materials, it's aromatic compounds that are responsible for the conductivity. We hypothesized that maybe it's similar in the Geobacter pili. In this case, it would be aromatic amino acids." Aromatic compounds have a highly stable ring-shaped structure made of carbon atoms.

Turning to the pili, Lovley says his group looked for aromatic amino acids in the parts of the pili proteins that would most likely contribute to the conductivity. Using genetic techniques, they developed a strain of Geobacter that makes pili that lack aromatic amino acids in these key regions, then they tested whether these pili could still conduct electricity. They could not. Removing the aromatic amino acids was a bit like taking the copper out of a plastic-covered electrical wire: no copper means no current, and all you're left with is a string.

Removing aromatic amino acids from the pili prevents the bacteria from reducing iron, too, says Lovley, an important point because it adds further proof that Geobacter uses its pili as nanowires for carrying electrons to support respiration.

Metal reducers like Geobacter show a lot of promise for use in fuel cells, says Lovley, and by feeding electrons to the microbes that produce the methane, they're an important component of anaerobic digesters that produce methane gas from waste products. Understanding how they shuttle their electrons around and how to optimize the way the pili function could lead to better technologies.

Moving forward, Lovley says his own lab plans to explore the possibilities of biological nanowires, exploring how to make them more or less conductive.


'/>"/>

Contact: Jim Sliwa
jsliwa@asmusa.org
202-942-9297
American Society for Microbiology
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Wayne State University researchers techniques enable more, faster testing of biological liquids
2. Snooze button on biological clocks improves cell adaptability
3. Advance promises to expand biological control of crop pests
4. Visualizing biological networks in 4-D
5. Cornell engineers solve a biological mystery and boost artificial intelligence
6. The neurobiological consequence of predating or grazing
7. UTSA engineer Hai-Chao Han named Fellow of Medical and Biological Engineering Institute
8. A nanoscale window to the biological world
9. Synthetic and biological nanoparticles combined to produce new metamaterials
10. New book details the biological and cultural diversity of Khawa Karpo, sacred mountain of Tibet
11. Developing second skin military fabric to repel chemical and biological agents
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/22/2016)... Md. , June 22, 2016  The American College ... Trade Show Executive Magazine as one of the ... on May 25-27 at the Bellagio in Las ... on the highest percentage of growth in each of the ... of exhibiting companies and number of attendees. The 2015 ACMG ...
(Date:6/21/2016)... VANCOUVER, British Columbia , June 21, 2016 ... been appointed to the new role of principal ... has been named the director of customer development. ... , NuData,s chief technical officer. The moves reflect ... development teams in response to high customer demand ...
(Date:6/15/2016)... York , June 15, 2016 ... new market report titled "Gesture Recognition Market by Application ... Forecast, 2016 - 2024". According to the report, the  ... 11.60 billion in 2015 and is estimated to ... USD 48.56 billion by 2024.  Increasing ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... release of its second eBook, “Clinical Trials Patient Recruitment and Retention Tips.” Partnering ... retention in this eBook by providing practical tips, tools, and strategies for clinical ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 Houston Methodist ... the Cy-Fair Sports Association to serve as their ... agreement, Houston Methodist Willowbrook will provide sponsorship support, ... connectivity with association coaches, volunteers, athletes and families. ... the Cy-Fair Sports Association and to bring Houston ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... today announced the launch of the Supplyframe Design Lab . Located in ... to explore the future of how hardware projects are designed, built and brought ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 ... Hematology Review, 2016;12(1):22-8 http://doi.org/10.17925/OHR.2016.12.01.22 ... , the peer-reviewed journal from touchONCOLOGY, Andrew ... escalating cost of cancer care is placing an ... result of expensive biologic therapies. With the patents ...
Breaking Biology Technology: