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Microbiologists Make Big Leap in Developing 'green' Electronics

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artists rendition of Geobacter expressing electrically conductive nanowires.

Microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered a new type of natural wire produced by bacteria that could greatly accelerate the development of sustainable green conducting materials for the electronics industry.

Credit: UMass Amherst News

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) have discovered a type of microbial nanowire that could help researchers develop sustainable conducting materials for electronic devices.

Unlike synthetic nanowires requiring toxic chemicals, high temperatures, and expensive metals to produce, natural nanowires can be mass-produced using inexpensive and renewable raw materials in bioreactors with much lower energy inputs.

In a new study supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the UMass Amherst scientists isolated the nanowire-assembling gene from one bacterium, Geobacter metallireducens, and inserted it into a second member of the species, G. sulfurreducens. The result was a bacterium that makes nanowires 5,000 times more conductive than G. sulfurreducens would produce naturally.

G. metallireducens nanowires' high conductivity is attributed to its abundance of aromatic amino acids, which support better connections for electron transfer along the protein filaments. The researchers believe the new nanowire offers unprecedented potential for building conductive materials, electronic devices, and sensors for medical and environmental applications.

They say as scientists discover more about the mechanisms of nanowire conductivity, eventually better wires could be constructed with specially designed genes.

From UMass Amherst News
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