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Secret To Electric Bacteria Might Lie In Strings Of Electron Carrying Proteins

Scientist Moh El-Naggar who is the associate professor of physics, biological sciences and chemistry at USC Dornsife along with a team from USC and Caltech have discovered that there is a possibility of a unique bacterium to be nature's microscopic power plant. They have worked with a species of bacteria called Shewanella oneidensis and found that the bacteria have developed a way of transferring electrons to a receiving surface in the outside world via outer membrane from the interior part of the cell.


The process is quite similar to how humans use oxygen to breathe. Even though the bacteria was discovered 30 years ago, its fascinating and exceptional biological trick is becoming a new interest to the scientists. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 22. It shows that how these bacteria might be using nanowires to achieve the electronic feat. Various applications can come out of this discovery like using microbial fuel cell to generate electricity or using the mechanism for wastewater treatment. Under the images developed by the ECT, the team was able to see how electron transport proteins and how they were distributed in the membranes to form nanowires. There is still a discussion on how the collisions happen as some electrons are much further apart. Even though there is much that still needs to be learned, the research will definitely lead to something exciting.  


By: Neha Maheshwari