Bacteria Could be the Key to Biological ‘Wires’

Article:  “Electricity-conducting bacteria yield secret to tiny batteries, big medical advances”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404143747.htm

Source:  Science Daily

Date Published:  April 4, 2019

Summary:  Scientists discovered that Geobacter sulfurreducens is conducting electricity through tiny fibers made of protein that “… surround a core of metal-containing molecules.”   It was previously thought that they were conducting electricity through pili, but new technology has made it possible to examine the smaller structures within the bacteria at a higher resolution.   These bacteria live in environments without oxygen, and they get rid of excess electrons almost as a way of ‘breathing.’   It is thought that this way of conducting electricity could eventually be harnessed and used in medical devices associated with human tissue.

Connections:  This article doesn’t relate exactly to the topics we have covered in class, but it does highlight how some bacteria have unique ways of processing molecules and electrons.   It mentions that these bacteria can also be used to clean up radioactive waste, which we have briefly talked about in class.

Critical Analysis:  I was not aware that bacteria could even conduct electricity, so the fact that they can do that, and people were able to figure out how they are doing it, is pretty cool.   It is also really interesting that the same technology the scientists used for this discovery was used to find a virus that was surviving in boiling acid.   The information seems scientifically accurate since they included quotes from the scientists that performed the research, and they included the citation for the article they were explaining.   I think the author did a good job of simplifying the material as best as they could so that any person could understand it.   It would be easier to understand if you were reading it with some background in biology, but it is not completely necessary to understand the basics of what they were talking about.

Question:  Will these proteins still function the same way if they are taken out of the bacteria and used for medical purposes?   Will the entire bacterium have to be used in the medical devices in order for them to work?

2 Comments for “Bacteria Could be the Key to Biological ‘Wires’”

cmondelli

says:

Hi Karli, I agree with your assessment of the article. The author did a good of job of allowing the researchers themselves to describe their work in their own words. The questions you posed bring up a good point, how much of the bacteria do we need to make this technology successful? The consequences of this research are huge! Some patients who have electric implants such as pacemakers and some Parkinson’s treatments require frequent surgery to replace battery packs. Theoretically, with this new technology, that would not be needed and the risk of undergoing a complication due to surgery is much lower. Unfortunately, the original article is stuck behind a pay-wall, so I am unable to read more into how the researchers themselves thought the technology would work and answer your question.

kcallegari

says:

This is a very interesting article! The thought of utilizing a conductive bacteria to generate power is an exciting prospect, but I don’t think this is an easy or likely feat. I had trouble finding articles that alluded to the prospect of a gene transfer that would allow a different organism to utilize conduction, but I did learn more about the process. The Bacteria need an cathode present to accept the electrons they are shedding for metabolic gain. There is also the issue that the bacteria must essentially be continually fed to generate electricity. All and all, I find it unlikely there will be a biomedical application for this bacteria.

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