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Wired for life

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The recent discovery of microbes wired for life to perform an electrically fueled cooperation sparked extensive interest in the competitive advantage of such co-operations, their environmental niches, and the impact on the global carbon cycle. Certain natural environments are rich in conductive minerals such ...

The recent discovery of microbes wired for life to perform an electrically fueled cooperation sparked extensive interest in the competitive advantage of such co-operations, their environmental niches, and the impact on the global carbon cycle. Certain natural environments are rich in conductive minerals such as magnetite; metallic iron or conductive chars. Could microbes cooperate with one another using the conductive properties of such minerals? The unseen majority of microorganism in the environment has been difficult to culture. It is possible that they require unforeseen associations with one another via electrical wiring, or unusual attachment to conductive minerals; and under certain conditions it is possible they secrete large amounts of shuttles, like flavins, messengers of a new interspecies friendship.
Most of our present-day understanding about how microorganisms cooperatively exploit the resources in their environment was addressed in co-culture studies using previously purified strains grown in the laboratory under conditions, which are irrelevant in the environment, such as for example excessive H2 partial pressure. It is of importance to learn how far and how fast electrons could be shared between species to make use of substrates they could otherwise not use, unaccompanied. Hence we need to broaden our understanding about how shuttles, chemical intermediates, conductive sediment layers or direct contact sustain interspecies interactions.
The field of electromicrobiology is fast emerging, embedding multiple disciplines from microbial physiology, microbial geochemistry, biophysics and electrochemistry. Engineering labs showed a regular interest in this field from its commencement, hoping to foster the development of new technologies for green energy production (microbial fuel cells) and biosynthesis of fuels, plastics or other bio-commodities.
With this research topic we hope to advance our basic understanding about the mechanisms microbes use to interact with electrodes, minerals or other microorganisms. We wish to learn if there is an evolutionary advantage to electric interspecies interactions in the environment, and understand the evolutionary pressure that makes microorganisms cooperate using a certain mechanism rather than another. By understanding how and why microorganism cooperate under certain conditions we could challenge the present day models of element cycles, and set in motion better strategies to improve waste decomposition, or to eliminate green house gasses from certain environments.
There are five points we would like to address with this research topic:
1.Strategies used by microorganisms to interact with each other directly or to conductive materials, electron shuttles etc.
2.Novel interactions of microorganisms with electrodes and other insoluble electron acceptors.
3.Environmental niches for unusual microbial interspecies interactions.
4.Understand the competitive advantage of a certain metabolic interspecies interaction over another.
5.Impact of microbial electric interactions in the carbon cycle in the environment.


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