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, Valentina Spampinato, Nathalie Claes, Paromita Kundu, Da Wang, Sara Bals, Karina K Sand, Francesca Cavezza, Tom Hauffman, Jesper Tataru Bjerg, Andre G Skirtach, Kamila Kochan, Merrilyn McKee, Bayden WoodDiana Bedolla, Alessandra Gianoncelli, Nicole M J Geerlings, Nani Van Gerven, Han Remaut, Jeanine S Geelhoed, Ruben Millan-Solsona, Laura Fumagalli, Lars Peter Nielsen, Alexis Franquet, Jean V Manca, Gabriel Gomila, Filip J R Meysman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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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)1-1é
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Bacterial Proteins/chemistry
  • Deltaproteobacteria/metabolism
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electricity
  • Electron Transport/physiology
  • Nickel/chemistry


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