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Andlinger Center Events

Highlight Seminar Series: Derek Lovley, University of Massachusetts

Date: September 17, 2020

Time: 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Location: Zoom Virtual Seminar

Derek Lovley

Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Massachusetts

“Protein Nanowires: Electrification of the Microbial World and Maybe Our Own”

Electrically conductive protein nanowires are widespread in the microbial world and are a revolutionary, ‘green’ material for the fabrication of electronic devices. Protein nanowires have independently evolved multiple times in microbial history to support direct interspecies electron transfer (DIET) and extracellular electron exchange between microbes and insoluble minerals. Electron transfer to Fe(III) and Mn(IV) oxides influences several natural biogeochemical cycles and plays an important role in the bioremediation of toxic organic and metal wastes. Protein nanowires function as electrical connects for DIET in methane-producing communities, routing electrons to microbes that convert carbon dioxide to methane. Artificially enhancing DIET with conductive materials improves the conversion of organic wastes to methane, one of the few successful large-scale bioenergy processes. DIET has also been documented in terrestrial wetlands, an important source of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Numerous bioelectrochemical systems for energy generation and environmental remediation are based on the ability of electroactive microbes to electrically interact with electrodes through protein nanowires and other biologically produced electrical connects. Protein nanowires harvested from microbes have many functional advantages over traditional nanowire materials and are the key components in novel electronic devices designed for sustainable electricity production, neuromorphic memory, and environmental and biomedical sensing. An E. coli chassis for mass production of protein nanowires has been constructed, providing a ready source of material for electronics, as well as for studies on the basic mechanisms for long-range electron transport along protein nanowires. Continued exploration is required to better understand the electrification of microbial communities with microbial nanowires and to expand the ‘green toolbox’ of sustainable electronic materials for wiring and powering the emerging ‘Internet of Things’.

Derek Lovley is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Massachusetts.  Research in his laboratory focuses on applications of protein nanowires in sensing and power-generating devices; direct interspecies electron transfer; synthetic electromicrobiology; novel bioenergy strategies; bioremediation; and the biogeochemistry of soils and sediments. Dr. Lovley has received many awards including Popular Science’s ‘Best of What’s New in Environmental Technology’; the Proctor and Gamble Award in Applied and Environmental Microbiology; and the Institute for Scientific Information’s ‘Most Highly Cited’ (H-index 174). He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology. His research has received substantial coverage in the popular press. He was featured in Time magazine’s profile of top innovators in environmental science and was also cited in Time for one of the top 50 inventions for 2009.  He has more than 450 publications, edited the book Environmental Microbe-Metal Interactions, and has been awarded patents for protein nanowires; several types of microbial fuel cells; microbial production of nanominerals; uranium and chlorinated solvent bioremediation; and electricity driven microbial conversion of carbon dioxide to organic commodities.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

2020/2021 Highlight Seminar Series line-up