Review Article | Published:

The ins and outs of microorganism–electrode electron transfer reactions

Nature Reviews Chemistry volume 1, Article number: 0024 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Electron transfer between microorganisms and an electrode — even across long distances — enables the former to live by coupling to an electronic circuit. Such a system integrates biological metabolism with artificial electronics; studying these systems adds to our knowledge of charge transport in the chemical species involved, as well as, perhaps most importantly, to our knowledge of charge transport and chemistry at the cell–electrode interfaces. This understanding may lead to microbial electrochemical systems finding widespread application, particularly in the energy sector. Bioelectrochemical systems have already shown promise for electricity generation, as well as for the production of biochemical and chemical feedstocks, and with improvement are likely to give rise to viable applications.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank their national and international granting agencies, in particular the ESBCO2 project (PIOF-GA-2011-302964). The work of A.K. is supported by an EU Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship for Career Development and D.L., P.K., L.L. and F.B are supported by the Ulysses France–Ireland programme. The authors thank G. Stephanopoulos, S. Glaven and L. Tender for helpful discussions.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.

    • Amit Kumar
    •  & John H. Lienhard V
  2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts 02155, USA.

    • Leo Huan-Hsuan Hsu
    •  & Xiaocheng Jiang
  3. School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queen's University Belfast, David Keir Building, Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5AG, UK.

    • Paul Kavanagh
  4. Université de Rennes 1, Institut des Sciences Chimiques de Rennes UMR CNRS 6226, Campus de Beaulieu, 35042 Rennes cedex, France.

    • Frédéric Barrière
    •  & Laure Lapinsonnière
  5. UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, PO box 3015, 2601 DA Delft, The Netherlands.

    • Piet N. L. Lens
  6. Biomolecular Electronics Research Laboratory, School of Chemistry and Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland, University Road, Galway H91 TK33, Ireland.

    • Piet N. L. Lens
    •  & Dónal Leech
  7. Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Chemistry, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Hagenring 30, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany.

    • Uwe Schröder

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Correspondence to Amit Kumar.

Glossary

Bioelectrochemical system (BES).

A microbial reactor — a fuel cell or electrolysis cell — that uses a microbial electrocatalyst.

Microbial electrosynthesis (MES).

An electrode reaction that results in the intentional generation of a useful chemical product (for example, hydrogen or butanol).

Microbial electrocatalyst

A microorganism that catalyses an electrode reaction.

Extracellular electron transfer

(EET). The process by which electrons are transferred outside the cell by shuttles or wires (for example, redox proteins, biopolymers and protein filaments) secreted by microorganisms. Transport can occur across distances exceeding 100 μm, such that intracellular metabolic processes (for example, acetate oxidation or O2 reduction) can be interfaced with insoluble extracellular electron acceptors or donors (for example, minerals and electrodes).

Electrogenic microorganism

A microorganism able to catalyse an anodic electrode reaction.

Microbial bioanode

An electrode colonized by microorganisms that catalyse an anodic reaction (for example, acetate oxidation).

Electrotrophic microorganism

A microorganism able to catalyse a cathodic electrode reaction.

Microbial biocathode

An electrode colonized by microorganisms that catalyse a cathodic reaction (for example, nitrate reduction).

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41570-017-0024