At the time I posted “First Bio-Blog Post” my mentor, Dr. Carlos Rodríguez, was teaching me basic techniques of molecular biology through his research “Probing for integron-encoded antibiotic resistant genes in clinical bacterial isolates”. Now I’ve been reassigned to work on the chemistry field with microorganisms capable of extracellular electron transfer to an electrode in order to produce electricity.
The theory of microbial electricity has been around for nearly a hundred years. This source of power consists of complete complex oxidation of organic compounds and efficient electron transfer to an electrode via direct contact. But it was in this decade that scientists found Geobacteraceae, microorganisms capable of making this kind of respiration. Then the question was to understand the microbe-electrode interaction in order to increase the electrical power output of these microbial fuel cells. The bigger the electrical output, the greater the applications of this new technology will be. The problem is that there is a wide phylogenetic diversity of microorganisms capable of performing this respiration as well as microorganisms capable of interacting with electrodes. It’s necessary to isolate these organisms with the appropriate strategies to understand their role in this system and to identify the microbes with the highest rates of electron transfer between them and electrodes. Once these microorganisms are identified genetics techniques could be used to enhance this ability on future microbial generations making the electrical power output stronger than what has actually been found.
As for the research experience, I can say that it has been very enriching so far. I’ve established new professional and personal relationships with my laboratory partners. I’m working on a laboratory that is shared between three professors, so I have a lot of company. This has made me a more organized and careful person as I care for the few materials we have. I’m aware that I’m not the only person in this project, so my actions will have consequences not only for me, but for the rest of the team. I’m also interacting with more experienced students that help me through some complex procedures; in the future I will help other students less experienced than me.
An obstacle that I will face, from the experimental point of view, is the DNA extraction part. DNA extraction of biofilms associated with an electrode is more difficult than DNA extraction from a culture of cells because it’s difficult to get enough material for the procedure. PCR is another technique I have to be careful in, because its success depends on how well I can manage micropipettes. But these are all obstacles that I will overcome with enough practice.
Lovley, Derek R. “The microbe electric: conversion of organic matter to electricity” Current Opinion in Biotechnology 19(2008): 564–571.