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Keywords:

  • anode;
  • biofilms;
  • electron transfer;
  • fuel cells;
  • gene expression

Abstract

The expression of genes involved in central metabolism and extracellular electron transfer was examined in real-time in current-producing anode biofilms of Geobacter sulfurreducens. Strains of G. sulfurreducens were generated, in which the expression of the gene for a short half-life fluorescent protein was placed under control of the promoter of the genes of interest. Anode biofilms were grown in a chamber that permitted direct examination of the cell fluorescence with confocal scanning laser microscopy. Studies on nifD and citrate synthase expression in response to environmental changes demonstrated that the reporter system revealed initiation and termination of gene transcription. Uniform expression throughout the biofilms was noted for the genes for citrate synthase; PilA, the structural protein of the conductive pili; and OmcZ, a c-type cytochrome essential for optimal current production, which was localized at the anode-biofilm interface. These results demonstrate that even cells at great distance from the anode, or within expected low-pH zones, are metabolically active and likely to contribute to current production and that there are factors other than gene expression differences influencing the distribution of OmcZ. This real-time reporter approach is likely to be a useful tool in optimizing the design of technologies relying on microbe-electrode interactions.