Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) have found a way of combating the greasy barrier of a cell membrane that blocks the flow of electrons between organism and its electronics cousins.
Prior research established that a complex of MtrCAB proteins helped electrons to cross cell membranes and get to metal oxides or minerals. In order to develop a more robust system, researchers began engineering E. coli to express large quantities of MtrCAB proteins that could reduce nanocrystals of iron oxide.
However scientists encountered a problem of engineered E. coli working less efficiently than other bacteria called as Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, thus reducing growth and slower electron transfer.
LBL researchers have now overcome this barrier by demonstrating that strains of engineered E. coli can be forced into generating a measurable current of electricity.
LBL writer Lita Stephenson asserted that “The strain that produced the greatest current at the anode was not the strain designed to maximize the number of electron conduits expressed in the membrane. Instead, the strains with optimized cellular health produced the maximum observed current, despite having only a moderate level of the electron transport proteins.”
The findings published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, came to the conclusion that any cell has the potential to be transformed into a living wire, generating electrical energy and interacting directly with manufactured electronics, with the added bonuses of being able to self-repair and self-replicate.
The newly published E. coli research is just one part of LBL’s new Molecular Foundry’s much broader slate of cutting edge, energy related research programs.