Oxygen consumption in marine sediments is often coupled to the oxidation of sulphide generated by degradation of organic matter in deeper, oxygen-free layers. Geochemical observations have shown that this coupling can be mediated by electric currents carried by unidentified electron transporters across centimetre-wide zones. Here we present evidence that the native conductors are long, filamentous bacteria. They abounded in sediment zones with electric currents and along their length they contained strings with distinct properties in accordance with a function as electron transporters. Living, electrical cables add a new dimension to the understanding of interactions in nature and may find use in technology development.

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Data deposits

All sequences are deposited in GenBank/EMBL/DDBJ under accession numbers JX091023JX091073.


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The authors thank P. G. Sørensen and L. B. Pedersen for construction of microsensors. Thanks to K. E. Thomsen for operating the TEM. B. B. Jørgensen is thanked for his general support. This research was financially supported by the European Research Council (L.P.N.), the Danish National Research Foundation (N.R.-P., C.P., K.U.K., L.S., M.D.), the Danish Council for Independent Research | Natural Sciences (FNU) (L.P.N.), the German Max Planck Society (N.R.-P., C.P., K.U.K., L.S.) and the Villum Foundation (M.D.).

Author information


  1. Center for Geomicrobiology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Christian Pfeffer
    • , Kasper Urup Kjeldsen
    • , Lars Schreiber
    • , Andreas Schramm
    • , Nils Risgaard-Petersen
    •  & Lars Peter Nielsen
  2. Section for Microbiology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Steffen Larsen
    • , Rikke Louise Meyer
    • , Andreas Schramm
    •  & Lars Peter Nielsen
  3. Centre for DNA Nanotechnology (CDNA), Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO), Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Jie Song
    • , Mingdong Dong
    • , Flemming Besenbacher
    •  & Rikke Louise Meyer
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA

    • Yuri A. Gorby
    •  & Kar Man Leung
  5. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA

    • Mohamed Y. El-Naggar
    •  & Kar Man Leung


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This study was conceived by L.P.N., N.R.-P. and A.S. Experimental work: C.P. FISH and molecular phylogeny: S.L. Single-cell identification: K.U.K. and L.S. AFM: R.L.M., J.S. and M.D. SEM and EFM: J.S., M.D. and F.B. TEM: L.P.N. and J.S. Conductivity measurements using nanofabricated electro discs: J.S., Y.A.G., M.Y.E.-N., K.M.L. and C.P. All authors contributed to discussions of the data and preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nils Risgaard-Petersen or Lars Peter Nielsen.

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