Long-range electron transport to Fe(III) oxide via pili with metallic-like conductivity

Derek R Lovley
Biochemical Society Transactions 2012 December 1, 40 (6): 1186-90
The mechanisms for Fe(III) oxide reduction by Geobacter species are of interest because Geobacter species have been shown to play an important role in Fe(III) oxide reduction in a diversity of environments in which Fe(III) reduction is a geochemically significant process. Geobacter species specifically express pili during growth on Fe(III) oxide compared with growth on soluble chelated Fe(III), and mutants that cannot produce pili are unable to effectively reduce Fe(III) oxide. The pili of Geobacter sulfurreducens are electrically conductive along their length under physiologically relevant conditions and exhibit a metallic-like conductivity similar to that observed previously in synthetic organic metals. Metallic-like conductivity in a biological protein filament is a previously unrecognized mechanism for electron transport that differs significantly from the more well-known biological strategy of electron hopping/tunnelling between closely spaced redox-active proteins. The multihaem c-type cytochrome OmcS is specifically associated with pili and is necessary for Fe(III) oxide reduction. However, multiple lines of evidence, including the metallic-like conductivity of the pili and the fact that OmcS molecules are spaced too far apart for electron hopping/tunnelling, indicate that OmcS is not responsible for long-range electron conduction along the pili. The role of OmcS may be to facilitate electron transfer from the pili to Fe(III) oxide. Long-range electron transport via pili with metallic-like conductivity is a paradigm shift that has important implications not only for Fe(III) oxide reduction, but also for interspecies electron exchange in syntrophic microbial communities as well as microbe-electrode interactions and the emerging field of bioelectronics.

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