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Scientists Modify Soil Bacteria to Conduct Electricity

Energy Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research, may have just hit pay-dirt.  They recently announced the successful modification of a bacteria commonly found in soil to turn it into a superconductor of electricity. 

The bacteria at the heart of the research is Geobacter, which produces protein filaments to make electrical connections with iron oxides in soil to support its growth.  Replacing two amino acids in the bacteria’s genetic makeup with tryptophan enabled the scientists to create a synethetic nanowire that conducts electricity and rivals the thinnest wires currently in use today.

After infusing Geobacter’s naturally occurring filaments with tryptophan, the scientists reported that conductivity increased by a factor of 2000.  What’s more, the nanowires are 60,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair, meaning that more wires can be bundled together, leading to a huge leap in connectivity.

In particular, the team of scientists cited two exciting opportunities for their work with Geobacter.  These synthetic filaments may prove useful in the emerging field of biotechnology, in which sensors are embedded inside the human body to monitor and regulate patients’ bodily functions. 

Another exciting opportunity exists in using Geobacter as a cost-effective method for developing alternative energy sources.  The nanowires could be used to feed electrical currents to specially engineered microbes to create butanol, an alternative to ethanol or diesel.

Read the full story here.

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