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Bacterial Nanowires Naturally

Bacterial Nanowires Could Revolutionize Electronics

The discovery could lead to a range of new conducting nanomaterials that are living, naturally occurring and nontoxic

By Eric Niiler

Physicists and biologists have teamed up to build a living transistor — an unusual kind of bacteria that produces long stringy filaments outside its body that conduct electrons better than some metals.

Scientists describe these filaments as a “living nanowire” that could be a big step forward in merging biological systems and electronic devices, leading to tiny organic super-batteries or biological superconductors made for a fraction of the cost of existing silicon-based chips.

The finding was reported in this month’s issue Nature Nanotechnology by a team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The strings of nanowires, called pili, allow the bacteria to get rid of electrons that are a byproduct of its digestive process. Humans and animals get rid of electrons through breathing, according to Mark Tuominen, professor of physics at UMass and lead author of the paper. But bacteria living in anaerobic zones don’t have oxygen to carry the electrons. Each one of these spaghetti-like strands is 10 to 20 times longer than the bacteria itself, according to Tuominen.

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