Engineering Biological Electron Transfer and Redox Pathways for Nanoparticle Synthesis

James Q. Boedicker, Manasi Gangan, Kyle Naughton, Fengjie Zhao, Jeffrey A. Gralnick, Mohamed Y. El-Naggar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Many species of bacteria are naturally capable of types of electron transport not observed in eukaryotic cells. Some species live in environments containing heavy metals not typically encountered by cells of multicellular organisms, such as arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, leading to the evolution of enzymes to deal with these environmental toxins. Bacteria also inhabit a variety of extreme environments, and are capable of respiration even in the absence of oxygen as a terminal electron acceptor. Over the years, several of these exotic redox and electron transport pathways have been discovered and characterized in molecular-level detail, and more recently synthetic biology has begun to utilize these pathways to engineer cells capable of detecting and processing a variety of metals and semimetals. One such application is the biologically controlled synthesis of nanoparticles. This review will introduce the basic concepts of bacterial metal reduction, summarize recent work in engineering bacteria for nanoparticle production, and highlight the most cutting-edge work in the characterization and application of bacterial electron transport pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-135
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Grant number N00014-18-1-2632.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2021, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers 2021.


  • Bacterial metal reduction
  • Extracellular electron transport
  • Microbiology
  • Nanoparticle synthesis
  • Nanotechnology
  • Synthetic biology


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