Protein Nanowires: the Electrification of the Microbial World and Maybe Our Own.

TitleProtein Nanowires: the Electrification of the Microbial World and Maybe Our Own.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLovley DR, Holmes DE
JournalJ Bacteriol
Date Published2020 Sep 23
KeywordsElectric Conductivity, Electron Transport, Fimbriae Proteins, Fimbriae, Bacterial, Geobacter, Microscopy, Electron, Nanowires, Protein Engineering

Electrically conductive protein nanowires appear to be widespread in the microbial world and are a revolutionary "green" material for the fabrication of electronic devices. Electrically conductive pili (e-pili) assembled from type IV pilin monomers have independently evolved multiple times in microbial history as have electrically conductive archaella (e-archaella) assembled from homologous archaellin monomers. A role for e-pili in long-range (micrometer) extracellular electron transport has been demonstrated in some microbes. The surprising finding of e-pili in syntrophic bacteria and the role of e-pili as conduits for direct interspecies electron transfer have necessitated a reassessment of routes for electron flux in important methanogenic environments, such as anaerobic digesters and terrestrial wetlands. Pilin monomers similar to those found in e-pili may also be a major building block of the conductive "cables" that transport electrons over centimeter distances through continuous filaments of cable bacteria consisting of a thousand cells or more. Protein nanowires harvested from microbes have many functional and sustainability advantages over traditional nanowire materials and have already yielded novel electronic devices for sustainable electricity production, neuromorphic memory, and sensing. e-pili can be mass produced with an chassis, providing a ready source of material for electronics as well as for studies on the basic mechanisms for long-range electron transport along protein nanowires. Continued exploration is required to better understand the electrification of microbial communities with microbial nanowires and to expand the "green toolbox" of sustainable materials for wiring and powering the emerging "Internet of things."

Alternate JournalJ Bacteriol
PubMed ID32747429
PubMed Central IDPMC7515249