Bacteria hold key to ‘bio-batteries’

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have demonstrated proteins on the surface of bacteria can produce an electric current by simply touching a mineral surface. This means that it is possible to bind bacteria directly to electrodes, bringing scientists a step closer to creating efficient microbial fuel cells or ‘bio-batteries’.

“These bacteria show great potential as microbial fuel cells, where electricity can be generated from the breakdown of domestic or agricultural waste products,” commented lead researcher, Dr Tom Clarke from UEA’s chool of Biological Sciences. “Another possibility is to use these bacteria as miniature factories on the surface of an electrode, where chemical reactions take place inside the cell using electrical power supplied by the electrode through these proteins.”

The microbe in question is Shewanella oneidensis, a marine bacterium. The research team, in conjunction with researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State, USA, created a synthetic version of this bacteria to demonstrate its amazing electrical properties. The project was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the US Department of Energy.

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