MyTH: Week 4 bacteria highlight: Geobacter spp.

Welcome to Week 4 of My Tiny Highlight (MyTH) series. This week I will focus on not a species. Instead, I will focus on a genera; Geobacter. Like the previous highlights, Geobacter are proteobacteria that has become relevant only more recently. Geobacter were first discovered and isolated in the late 1980s by UMass professor Derek Lovley. In a short amount of time, Geobacter has become a model organism in highly active research areas. These include bioremediation and microbial fuel cells. Several different Geobacter spp. are routinely found in soil and sediment samples from contaminated sites. For many bacteria, oxygen is not required to survive. During the course of evolution, many bacteria, including Geobacter, can undergo anaerobic respiration, or create energy without the need for oxygen. The first Geobacter genome was published in 2003 to much fanfare in the journal Science. One reason for this was the discovery that Geobacter are motile, having several chemotaxis proteins. Also found was an unprecedented number of cytochrome (111!) genes which are usually used for electron transfer┬ávia attached heme groups to the protein. The number of bound hemes vary between 1 and 27. Very impressive. In order to survive, these bacteria can use a host of molecules as an “electron sink” so their metabolism can continue. Geobacter have two main strategies for this; if the “sink” is soluble, they can utilize a host of cytochrome c proteins on their outer membrane exposed to their environment. If these “sinks” are insoluble like metals for example, they can essentially extend appendages from their membrane to the “sink”.

This is where it gets interesting…

These appendages called pili have extracellular cytochrome c proteins along their length. So, electrons are transported from inside the cell through the pili and cytochromes to the available electron sink. Essentially, they are able to conduct electricity as a means of respiration. Here are two animations showing the differences:


extracellular electron transfer, geobacter
Electrons: yellow
iron: black
MacA protein: dark green
PpcA: blue
OmcB: black
other outer membrane cytochromes: orange and light green
bacterial nanowire, bacteria, chemotaxis, microbiology, geobacter
A bacterial nanowire. Electrons (yellow) are passed through pili (purple) to OmcS (cyan) for reduction of iron (black).