Microbes Make Highly Conductive Nanowires

September
2016

Hair-like projections from anaerobic bacteria can produce extremely thin, highly conductive nanowires. With a small genetic tweak, these wires could be made conductive enough for use in electronic devices, not only as wires but also as transistors.

The hair-like appendages called pili on the bacterium Geobacter sulfur-reducens are naturally conductive thanks to their arrangement of aromatic amino acids. Now, researchers at the Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst, have swapped out some single-ring amino acids in these hairs for the double-ring amino acid tryptophan, narrowing their diameter by half and sending the conductivity skyrocketing.

“As we learned more about how the microbial nanowires worked, we realized that it might be possible to improve on Nature’s design,” says Derek Lovley, the Distinguished University Professor of microbiology at the Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst. “We knew that one class of amino acids was important for the conductivity, so we rearranged these amino acids to produce a synthetic nanowire that we thought...

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