Electric microbes

Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest‘ – Szent-Györgyi

The Reguera lab has led pioneer work describing the electric nature of some microbes and applications that harness their activities in bioremediation, nanotechnology and biomining. With funds from the Army Research Office we are investigating how microbes cycle commercially valuable metals and radionuclides. Our goal is to harness the microbial activities as electroreclamation platforms. We also work with industrial partners to develop electroactive biofilms on electrodes (‘bioelectrodes’) to power electrofermentations and electrosynthesis technologies to advance the climate economy.

Geobacter cells make their own protein nanowires to ‘zap’ toxic metals and radionuclides as nanoparticle. Learn about our work in this award-winning video “Zapping Nuclear Waste” and by reading MSU’s highlights of our research.

Remediation of agrochemicals

The more we pour the big machines, the fuel, the pesticides, the herbicides, the fertilizer and chemicals into farming, the more we knock out the mechanism that made it all work in the first place” – David R. Brower

Our work on electric microbes led us to investigate hitherto unknown roles of these bacteria in the remediation of agrochemicals (nutrients and pesticides) that are released in agricultural run-offs. We have a DOE-funded collaborative project with biochemists at MSU to investigate the respiratory chains that enable these activities. We are also working with colleagues in the department of Horticulture to investigate the complex microbial communities that control the bioremediation capacity of technologies designed to remove agrochemicals sustainably (spoiler alert: Geobacter bacteria are part of them!). Our goal is to provide growers and farmers with treatment options of agricultural wastewater and recycling of irrigation water.

Geobacter bacteria play key roles in the solubilization of metals essential to plants and plant-associated microbiomes. They also contribute to the retention of nitrogen fertilizers in soils and are part of the microbiomes that can help us remove agrochemicals from agricultural run-offs.

Otic microbiome

Our bond with microbes is such that they are not so much riders, parasites, and assistants as part human. And we, it’s becoming increasingly clear, may need to begin thinking of ourselves as part microbe.”― Guy P. Harrison

We are funded by the Office of Naval Research to develop bacterial replacement therapies that can protect divers from barotrauma. We look at the middle ear with the eye of a microbial ecologist. Our studies challenged the entrenched dogma of a sterile middle ear and revealed instead that the otic mucosa harbors a complex bacterial community of oral ancestry. We use omics tools and cultivation approaches to learn about these unique microbiomes and manipulate their in situ responses to stressors, including infections.

Basic research into the otic microbiome informs of bacterial replacement therapies that can protect divers from barotrauma. This knowledge is also helping us understand how otic commensals cooperate to protect us from infections.

Living wood

By applying the principles of the circular economy to the way we design buildings, infrastructure and other elements of the built environment, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while creating urban areas that are more liveable, productive and convenient.”― Ellen MacArthur Foundation

We are funded by ARPA-E HESTIA program to reimagine wood materials using microbes and transform buildings into net carbon storage structures with self-healing properties. We are making wood live again, all thanks to microbes!