Engineering Bacteria for Materials Synthesis
Electroactive bacteria possess special biological machinery that allows them to transport electrons over great distances and "breathe" on mineral deposits. As a result, these organisms share a close metabolic and evolutionary relationship with metals, metal oxides, and other materials. Taking advantage of this relationship, our research focuses on the genetic engineering of one electroactive species (Shewanella oneidensis) to produce materials with specific, desirable properties. We use a combination of synthetic biology, inorganic chemistry, and materials characterization in our research and have recently shown that electron transport pathways in S. oneidensis can be manipulated to control polymer synthesis, nanoparticle formation, and the reduction of new materials for environmental remediation. Ultimately, we hope to apply these hybrid biological-materials system, which can autonomously respond to complex inputs, to outstanding challenges in health care, sensing, and catalysis.