Minnesota Microorganisms for Electrical Biocatalysis: Novel Bacteria from Minnesota Habitats that Use Electrodes to Increase Bioproduct Value and Capture

Biomass processing should increase both energetic and economic value. Unfortunately, bioconversions are limited by a need for redox balance, causing most strategies to represent a net loss of energy or carbon, and aside from photosynthesis, there are few biological routes for capturing carbon dioxide. Recent discoveries show that these limitations could be overcome, and that Minnesota has unique resources that will enable this future technology.

Bacteria exist which can obtain electrons from electrodes, for use in reductive reactions. Such “biological cathodes” could utilize electricity from solar or wind resources, storing valuable electrons by driving catalysis of more reduced compounds (from simple fatty acids to ‘microbial plastics’). This technology is currently lacking model organisms for study, manipulation, and commercialization.

Our group from the University of Minnesota-St. Paul (Daniel Bond, Jeffrey Gralnik, and David Biesboer) and UM-Duluth (Randall Hicks) campuses will document this ability in existing cultures, and bioprospect for novel bacteria from three unique habitats of Minnesota; iron and carbonate-rich springs near Lake Itasca, subsurface saline iron-rich fluids of the Soudan Iron Mine, and rapidly corroding iron piers in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. This work links scientists familiar with Minnesota habitats to obtain new bacterial models for the study and engineering of an emerging approach that directly links electricity to biological carbon capture and catalysis.

This one-year seed grant project is being supported by the University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

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