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Electricity-conducting bacteria

Electricity-conducting bacteria yield secret to tiny batteries and big medical advances, scientists from the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine say.

The bacteria that live in soil and sediment can conduct electricity through a seamless biological structure never before seen in nature, according to the team. This structure, they believe, can be co-opted to miniaturise electronics, create powerful-yet-tiny batteries and build pacemakers without wires.

Scientists had previously believed Geobacter sulfurreducens conducted electricity through common, hair-like appendages called pili. Instead, the team determined that the bacteria transmit electricity through immaculately ordered fibres made of an entirely different protein. These proteins surround a core of metal-containing molecules, much like an electric cord contains metal wires. This "nanowire," however, is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

"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," said UVA's Edward H. Egelman, PhD.

Author
Bethan Grylls

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