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Long-range microbial electron transfer: natural mechanisms and synthetic models

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Exoelectrogenic microorganisms can grow by transferring electrons from their internal metabolism to extracellular substrates in a process known as extracellular electron transfer (EET). This dissertation explores the mechanisms of EET

Exoelectrogenic microorganisms can grow by transferring electrons from their internal metabolism to extracellular substrates in a process known as extracellular electron transfer (EET). This dissertation explores the mechanisms of EET by both chemotrophic and phototrophic organisms and constructs a novel supramolecular structure that can be used as a model for microbial, long-range electron transfer. Geobacter sulfurreducens has been hypothesized to secrete and use riboflavin as a soluble, extracellular redox shuttle in conjunction with multi-heme, outer membrane, c-type cytochromes, but the required proteins and their properties have not been defined. To address the mechanism of extracellular electron transfer by G. sulfurreducens, the first part of this work explores the interaction between an outer membrane, octaheme, c-type cytochrome OmcZs from G. sulfurreducens and riboflavin. Interrogation via multiple physical techniques shows that OmcZs transfers electrons to riboflavin. By analogy to other characterized systems, riboflavin then likely interacts with extracellular acceptors directly. The second part of this work addresses the mechanisms of EET by the model cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. It has been hypothesized that Synechocystis employs conductive pili for production of extracellular current. However, the results herein show that a strain that does not have pili produces extracellular photocurrent in a direct electrochemical cell at a level similar to that by wild type cells. Furthermore, conductive atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging is used to show that pili produced by the wild type organism are not conductive. Thus, an alternative EET mechanism must be operable. In the third part of this work, a supramolecular structure comprised of peptide and cytochromes designed to serve as a model for long-range electron transfer through cytochrome rich environments is described. The c-type cytochromes in this synthetic nanowire retain their redox activity after assembly and have suitable characteristics for long-range electron transfer. Taken together, the results of this dissertation not only inform on natural microbial mechanisms for EET but also provide a starting point to develop novel, synthetic systems.

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Date Created
  • 2019