Scientists have made a startling finding of how bizarre bacteria that live in the soil/sediment are able to carry electricity. They do this through a smooth biological arrangement, one that had never been seen in the face of nature. This structure can be adapted to reduce the size of electronics, produce batteries that are strong yet small, produce pacemakers that don’t need wires and generate a host of other medical developments.
A researcher from the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine and his colleagues has deduced that the bacteria transfer electricity through ordered fibers made of a completely unique protein which engulfs a core of molecules comprising of metal, similar to an electric cord that contains metallic wires. This “nanowire” is about 100,000 times lighter than a single human hair.
Researchers are of the belief that this tiny organization could be extremely beneficial for everything ranging from utilizing the power of bioenergy to tidying up pollution.
“There are all sorts of implanted medical devices that are connected to tissue, like pacemakers with wires, and this could lead to applications where you have miniature devices that are actually connected by these protein filaments,” stated UVA’s Edward H. Egelman, Ph.D. “We can now imagine the miniaturization of many electronic devices generated by bacteria, which is pretty amazing.”
The Geobacter bacteria play significant roles in the soil, such as assisting in mineral turnover and also clearing up radioactive remains. They live in environments with the absence of oxygen and utilize nanowires to free themselves of extra electrons in an act that can be seen as their equivalent to breathing. These nanowires have fascinated scientists.
“The technology [to understand nanowires] didn’t exist until about five years ago, when advances in cryo-electron microscopy allowed high resolution,” Egelman, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, stated. “We have one of these instruments here at UVA, and, therefore, the ability to actually understand at the atomic level the structure of these filaments. … So this is just one of the many mysteries that we’ve now been able to solve using this technology, like the virus that can survive in boiling acid, and there will be others.”