Engineering Wired Life: Synthetic Biology for Electroactive Bacteria

Lina J. Bird, Biki B. Kundu, Tanya Tschirhart, Anna D. Corts, Lin Su, Jeffrey A. Gralnick, Caroline M. Ajo-Franklin, Sarah M. Glaven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Electroactive bacteria produce or consume electrical current by moving electrons to and from extracellular acceptors and donors. This specialized process, known as extracellular electron transfer, relies on pathways composed of redox active proteins and biomolecules and has enabled technologies ranging from harvesting energy on the sea floor, to chemical sensing, to carbon capture. Harnessing and controlling extracellular electron transfer pathways using bioengineering and synthetic biology promises to heighten the limits of established technologies and open doors to new possibilities. In this review, we provide an overview of recent advancements in genetic tools for manipulating native electroactive bacteria to control extracellular electron transfer. After reviewing electron transfer pathways in natively electroactive organisms, we examine lessons learned from the introduction of extracellular electron transfer pathways intoEscherichia coli. We conclude by presenting challenges to future efforts and give examples of opportunities to bioengineer microbes for electrochemical applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2808-2823
Number of pages16
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 19 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
, , , and were created using Biorender. We thank Cynthia Crosswhite for her assistance with figure generation. This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research Award Nos. N00014-18-1-2632 (JAG), N00014-20-1-2196 (JAG), N00014-20-1-2274 (CMAF), N00014-21-WX00409 (SMG), and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (RR190063 to CMAF).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society


  • extracellular electron transfer
  • microbial bioelectronics
  • microbial electrochemical technologies
  • synthetic biology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review


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