Microbial nanowires: Is the subsurface "hardwired"?

Dimitrios Ntarlagiannis, Estella A. Atekwana, Eric A. Hill, Yuri Gorby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


The Earth's shallow subsurface results from integrated biological, geochemical, and physical processes. Methods are sought to remotely assess these interactive processes, especially those catalysed by micro-organisms. Using saturated sand columns and the metal reducing bacterium Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, we show that electrically conductive appendages called bacterial nanowires are directly associated with electrical potentials. No significant electrical potentials were detectable in columns inoculated with mutant strains that produced non-conductive appendages. Scanning electron microscopy imaging revealed a network of nanowires linking cells-cells and cells to mineral surfaces, "hardwiring" the entire length of the column. We hypothesize that the nanowires serve as conduits for transfer of electrons from bacteria in the anaerobic part of the column to bacteria at the surface that have access to oxygen, akin to a biogeobattery. These results advance understanding of the mechanisms of electron transport in subsurface environments and of how microorganisms cycle geologic material and share energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL17305
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 16 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial nanowires: Is the subsurface "hardwired"?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this