An Electrifying Discovery


NABIR-supported researcher Dr. Derek R. Lovley of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has made a remarkable discovery that will be published in the journal Nature in mid-June. Dr. Lovley s group has found that the metal-reducing microorganism Geobacter produces nanotube projections called pili on the outer cell surface that appear to function as electron conducting nanowires. The data indicates these conductive pili are conduits by which Geobacter transfers electrons onto iron oxides during the process of dissimilatory iron reduction. This is of importance because Geobacter species are detected as a dominant species in the subsurface during stimulated uranium bioremediation, where iron oxide reduction is a dominant process. Discovery of this fundamental mechanism of microbial metal reduction could lead to better models for subsurface bioremediation processes but may also have implications for the electronics field because the conducting pili can be mass produced and pili composition can be altered via genetic manipulation.