Electron transfer at the microbe–mineral interface: a grand challenge in biogeochemistry


Corresponding author: J. K. Fredrickson. Tel: 509-376-7063; fax: 509-376-4909; e-mail: jim.fredrickson@pnl.gov.


The interplay between microorganisms and minerals is a complex and dynamic process that has sculpted the geosphere for nearly the entire history of the Earth. The work of Dr Terry Beveridge and colleagues provided some of the first insights into metal–microbe and mineral–microbe interactions and established a foundation for subsequent detailed investigations of interactions between microorganisms and minerals. Beveridge also envisioned that interdisciplinary approaches and teams would be required to explain how individual microbial cells interact with their immediate environment at nano- or microscopic scales and that through such approaches and using emerging technologies that the details of such interactions would be revealed at the molecular level. With this vision as incentive and inspiration, a multidisciplinary, collaborative team-based investigation was initiated to probe the process of electron transfer (ET) at the microbe–mineral interface. The grand challenge to this team was to address the hypothesis that multiheme c-type cytochromes of dissimilatory metal-reducing bacteria localized to the cell exterior function as the terminal reductases in ET to Fe(III) and Mn(IV) oxides. This question has been the subject of extensive investigation for years, yet the answer has remained elusive. The team involves an integrated group of experimental and computational capabilities at US Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a national scientific user facility, as the collaborative focal point. The approach involves a combination of in vitro and in vivo biologic and biogeochemical experiments and computational analyses that, when integrated, provide a conceptual model of the ET process. The resulting conceptual model will be evaluated by integrating and comparing various experimental, i.e. in vitro and in vivo ET kinetics, and theoretical results. Collectively, the grand challenge will provide a detailed view of how organisms engage with mineral surfaces to exchange energy and electron density as required for life function.