The findings of microbiologist Derek R. Lovley's research team are published in the June 23rd issue of Nature, an international science journal. Researchers found that the conductive structures, known as "microbial nanowires," are produced by a novel microorganism known as Geobacter. The nanowires are incredibly fine, only 3-5 nanometers in width (20,000 times finer than a human hair), but quite durable and more than a thousand times long as they are wide.
"Such long, thin conductive structures are unprecedented in biology," said Lovley. "This completely changes our concept of how microorganisms can handle electrons, and it also seems likely that microbial nanowires could be useful materials for the development of extremely small electronic devices."
"The microbial world never stops surprising us," said Dr. Aristides Patrinos of the U.S. Department of Energy, which funds the Geobacter research. "The remarkable and unexpected discovery of microbial structures comprising microbial nanowires that may enable a microbial community in a contaminated waste site to form mini-power grids could provide new approaches to using microbes to assist in the remediation of DOE waste sites; to support the operation of mini-environmental sensors, and to nano-manufacture in novel biological ways. This discovery also illustrates the continuing relevance of the physical sciences to today's biological investigations."
Eugene Madsen, a Cornell University research microbiologist, noted, "I have watched and judged, in peer review
Contact: Derek Lovley
University of Massachusetts at Amherst