Structural basis for metallic-like conductivity in microbial nanowires.

TitleStructural basis for metallic-like conductivity in microbial nanowires.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsMalvankar NS, Vargas M, Nevin K, Tremblay P-L, Evans-Lutterodt K, Nykypanchuk D, Martz E, Tuominen MT, Lovley DR
Date Published2015 Mar 03
KeywordsAmino Acids, Aromatic, Chemical Phenomena, Electrophysiological Phenomena, Fimbriae, Bacterial, Geobacter, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Models, Molecular, Nanowires, X-Ray Diffraction

UNLABELLED: Direct measurement of multiple physical properties of Geobacter sulfurreducens pili have demonstrated that they possess metallic-like conductivity, but several studies have suggested that metallic-like conductivity is unlikely based on the structures of the G. sulfurreducens pilus predicted from homology models. In order to further evaluate this discrepancy, pili were examined with synchrotron X-ray microdiffraction and rocking-curve X-ray diffraction. Both techniques revealed a periodic 3.2-Å spacing in conductive, wild-type G. sulfurreducens pili that was missing in the nonconductive pili of strain Aro5, which lack key aromatic acids required for conductivity. The intensity of the 3.2-Å peak increased 100-fold when the pH was shifted from 10.5 to 2, corresponding with a previously reported 100-fold increase in pilus conductivity with this pH change. These results suggest a clear structure-function correlation for metallic-like conductivity that can be attributed to overlapping π-orbitals of aromatic amino acids. A homology model of the G. sulfurreducens pilus was constructed with a Pseudomonas aeruginosa pilus model as a template as an alternative to previous models, which were based on a Neisseria gonorrhoeae pilus structure. This alternative model predicted that aromatic amino acids in G. sulfurreducens pili are packed within 3 to 4 Å, consistent with the experimental results. Thus, the predictions of homology modeling are highly sensitive to assumptions inherent in the model construction. The experimental results reported here further support the concept that the pili of G. sulfurreducens represent a novel class of electronically functional proteins in which aromatic amino acids promote long-distance electron transport.

IMPORTANCE: The mechanism for long-range electron transport along the conductive pili of Geobacter sulfurreducens is of interest because these "microbial nanowires" are important in biogeochemical cycling as well as applications in bioenergy and bioelectronics. Although proteins are typically insulators, G. sulfurreducens pilus proteins possess metallic-like conductivity. The studies reported here provide important structural insights into the mechanism of the metallic-like conductivity of G. sulfurreducens pili. This information is expected to be useful in the design of novel bioelectronic materials.

Alternate JournalmBio
PubMed ID25736881
PubMed Central IDPMC4453548