Mechanisms and applications of microbial bioelectrochemistry

Artistic rendering of bacterial flavin-based extracellular electron transfer. Lightning bolts represent electron transfer, with free flavins (which enhance activity) represented as yellow spheres. Illustration by Amy Cao.

Some anaerobic microbes use a process called extracellular electron transfer to route their respiratory electron transport chains to the exterior of the cell. Once outside the cell electrons can be captured with an electrode, facilitating the conversion of the energy in organic matter into electricity. This property has inspired an emerging research field that seeks to co-opt components of extracellular electron transfer for the development of bioelectronic technologies. While extracellular electron transfer activities have mainly been studied in specialized mineral-respiring microbes, we recently discovered a distinctive “flavin-based” extracellular electron transfer mechanism that is conserved in diverse bacteria. Our lab is interested in determining the basis/function of “flavin-based” electron transfer and exploring possible bioelectronic applications of this novel apparatus.

Relevant publications
Post-translational flavinylation is associated with diverse extracytosolic redox functionalities throughout bacterial life. Méheust,* Huang* et al., eLife (2021).

 A flavin-based extracellular electron transfer mechanism in diverse Gram-positive bacteria. Light et al., Nature (2018).