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Extracellular electron transfer (EET) allows microorganisms to gain energy by linking intracellular reactions to external surfaces ranging from natural minerals to the electrodes of bioelectrochemical renewable energy technologies. In the past two decades, electrochemical techniques have been used to investigate EET in a wide range of microbes, with emphasis on dissimilatory metal-reducing bacteria, such as Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, as model organisms. However, due to the typically bulk nature of these techniques, they are unable to reveal the subpopulation variation in EET or link the observed electrochemical currents to energy gain by individual cells, thus overlooking the potentially complex spatial patterns of activity in bioelectrochemical systems. Here, to address these limitations, we use the cell membrane potential as a bioenergetic indicator of EET by S. oneidensis MR-1 cells. Using a fluorescent membrane potential indicator during in vivo single-cell-level fluorescence microscopy in a bioelectrochemical reactor, we demonstrate that membrane potential strongly correlates with EET. Increasing electrode potential and associated EET current leads to more negative membrane potential. This EET-induced membrane hyperpolarization is spatially limited to cells in contact with the electrode and within a near-electrode zone (<30 μm) where the hyperpolarization decays with increasing cell-electrode distance. The high spatial and temporal resolution of the reported technique can be used to study the single-cell-level dynamics of EET not only on electrode surfaces, but also during respiration of other solid-phase electron acceptors.


Sahand Pirbadian, Marko S Chavez, Mohamed Y El-Naggar. Spatiotemporal mapping of bacterial membrane potential responses to extracellular electron transfer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2020 Aug 18;117(33):20171-20179

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PMID: 32747561

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