Using bacteria to generate energy is a signifiant step closer following a breakthrough discovery by scientists from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia. Published this week by the leading scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research demonstrates for the first time the exact molecular structure of the proteins which enable bacterial cells to transfer electrical charge.
The discovery means scientists can now start developing ways to ‘tether’ bacteria directly to electrodes – creating efficient microbial fuel cells or ‘bio-batteries’. The advance could also hasten the development of microbe-based agents that can clean up oil or uranium pollution, and fuel cells powered by human or animal waste.
“This is an exciting advance in our understanding of how some bacterial species move electrons from the inside to the outside of a cell,” said Dr. Tom Clarke.
“Identifying the precise molecular structure of the key proteins involved in this process is a crucial step towards tapping into microbes as a viable future source of electricity.”