Efficient long-range conduction in cable bacteria through nickel protein wires

Henricus T.S. Boschker, Perran L.M. Cook, Lubos Polerecky, Raghavendran Thiruvallur Eachambadi, Helena Lozano, Silvia Hidalgo-Martinez, Dmitry Khalenkow, Da Wang, Filip J.R. Meysman, More Authors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Filamentous cable bacteria display long-range electron transport, generating electrical currents over centimeter distances through a highly ordered network of fibers embedded in their cell envelope. The conductivity of these periplasmic wires is exceptionally high for a biological material, but their chemical structure and underlying electron transport mechanism remain unresolved. Here, we combine high-resolution microscopy, spectroscopy, and chemical imaging on individual cable bacterium filaments to demonstrate that the periplasmic wires consist of a conductive protein core surrounded by an insulating protein shell layer. The core proteins contain a sulfur-ligated nickel cofactor, and conductivity decreases when nickel is oxidized or selectively removed. The involvement of nickel as the active metal in biological conduction is remarkable, and suggests a hitherto unknown form of electron transport that enables efficient conduction in centimeter-long protein structures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3996
Pages (from-to)3996
Number of pages1
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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