Enhanced Laterally Resolved ToF-SIMS and AFM Imaging of the Electrically Conductive Structures in Cable Bacteria

Raghavendran Thiruvallur Eachambadi, Henricus T.S. Boschker, Alexis Franquet, Valentina Spampinato, Silvia Hidalgo-Martinez, Roland Valcke, Filip J.R. Meysman, Jean V. Manca*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Cable bacteria are electroactive bacteria that form a long, linear chain of ridged cylindrical cells. These filamentous bacteria conduct centimeter-scale long-range electron transport through parallel, interconnected conductive pathways of which the detailed chemical and electrical properties are still unclear. Here, we combine time-of-flight secondary-ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to investigate the structure and composition of this naturally occurring electrical network. The enhanced lateral resolution achieved allows differentiation between the cell body and the cell-cell junctions that contain a conspicuous cartwheel structure. Three ToF-SIMS modes were compared in the study of so-called fiber sheaths (i.e., the cell material that remains after the removal of cytoplasm and membranes, and which embeds the electrical network). Among these, fast imaging delayed extraction (FI-DE) was found to balance lateral and mass resolution, thus yielding the following multiple benefits in the study of structure-composition relations in cable bacteria: (i) it enables the separate study of the cell body and cell-cell junctions; (ii) by combining FI-DE with in situ AFM, the depth of Ni-containing protein - key in the electrical transport - is determined with greater precision; and (iii) this combination prevents contamination, which is possible when using an ex situ AFM. Our results imply that the interconnects in extracted fiber sheaths are either damaged during extraction, or that their composition is different from fibers, or both. From a more general analytical perspective, the proposed methodology of ToF-SIMS in the FI-DE mode combined with in situ AFM holds great promise for studying the chemical structure of other biological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7226-7234
Number of pages9
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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