Billions of years ago, bacteria evolved metabolic strategies to capture the energy released during oxidation and reduction of rocks and minerals. This activity has a profound impact on the chemistry of their planet.
Our lab studies bacteria that transfer electrons beyond their cell membranes, a process that enables them to gain energy from rocks, rusts, and even other organisms. This electron movement can alter the toxicity of metals, provide a route for bioremediation of underground contaminants, and shunt electrons to methane production. Importantly, these organisms represent a new kind of direct electrical connection between cells and the biosphere, allowing us to harness microbial electron flow using electrodes.
At the University of Minnesota, we host scientists from around the world, who invent new tools that explore this interface between microbiology and electricity. We study the molecular and genetic basis for this metabolism, develop strategies that harness naturally occurring organisms for the capture of energy, and explore how this ability can be used for a new generation of bioelectrical sensors.