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How To Generate Electricity From E. Coli Bacteria?

Key Highlights

  • E. coli bacteria have been bioengineered to produce electricity, offering a groundbreaking approach to both waste management and energy production.
  • The research achieved a three-fold increase in electrical current generation by creating a complete extracellular electron transfer pathway within E. coli, surpassing previous methods.

Researchers have achieved a remarkable feat by modifying the well-studied E. coli bacteria to produce electricity. This groundbreaking achievement, documented in the Joule journal, highlights the bacteria’s potential applications in various settings, particularly wastewater treatment.

According to Professor Ardemis Boghossian from EPFL, “We’ve harnessed E. coli bacteria, which is one of the most extensively researched microorganisms, to generate electrical power. While other less common microbes naturally produce electricity, they typically require specific chemicals. In contrast, E. coli can thrive on various food sources, enabling us to generate electricity in diverse environments, including wastewater.”

This breakthrough could have far-reaching implications for waste management, energy generation, and various bioelectric applications.

Bioengineering E. coli for Electricity Generation

In a recent paper published on September 8 in the journal Joule, Professor Boghossian’s team has made a significant breakthrough in the field of bioelectronics. They have expanded the capabilities of common E. coli bacteria, widely used in biological research, to generate electricity. This achievement presents a novel approach that has the potential to revolutionize both waste management and energy production.

  • The breakthrough involves utilizing E. coli bacteria to produce electricity through a process called extracellular electron transfer (EET).
  • The researchers at EPFL have genetically engineered these bacteria to enhance their EET abilities, effectively turning them into highly efficient “electric microbes.”
  • Unlike previous methods that relied on specific chemicals for electricity generation, these bioengineered E. coli can generate electricity while metabolizing various organic substrates.

Creating a Complete EET Pathway

One of the key innovations in this study is the creation of a complete EET pathway within the E. coli bacteria, a milestone that had not been achieved before.

By incorporating components from Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, a bacterium renowned for its electricity-producing capabilities, the researchers successfully constructed an optimized pathway that extends across both the inner and outer membranes of the cell.

This novel pathway outperformed previous partial approaches, resulting in a three-fold increase in electrical current generation compared to conventional methods.


1. What is the significance of bioengineering E. coli for electricity generation?

Bioengineered E. coli can produce electricity from various organic sources, revolutionizing waste management and energy production.

2. How does E. coli generate electricity?

E. coli generates electricity through extracellular electron transfer (EET) while metabolizing organic substrates.

3. Can bioengineered E. coli be used in wastewater treatment?

Yes, bioengineered E. coli can generate electricity from wastewater, making it a promising technology for wastewater treatment.

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