Engineering Bacterial Nanowires: Enhancing Electric Bacteria for Clean Chemical Synthesis


Inspired by the catalytic versatility of electric bacteria and addressing limitations of purely synthetic approaches, this PhD project aims to assemble novel inorganic:biological hybrid materials for clean, green upcycling of low-value resources.

Bacteria are multi-functional renewable catalysts. Electricity is a green fuel. This project will establish methods to enhance the electrical interfacing of bacteria and electrodes for sustainable chemical synthesis. The surface of Shewanella bacteria will be site-selectively engineered to present reactive functional groups for covalent coupling to electrodes. In this way application of an appropriate electrode potential will drive electrons across the bacterial outer membrane and, in turn, redox catalysis by enzymes inside the bacteria. During the project surface reactive functional groups will be introduced to the MTR protein complex, a biological molecular wire that conducts electrons across the bacterial outer membrane. Protocols for electrode attachment will be developed and the resulting biofilms assessed for their ability to produce fuels, for example, hydrogen (from water) and formate (from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide).

This PhD will be supervised by Prof Julea Butt and research performed in collaboration with the groups of Dr Tom Clarke and Dr Amit Sachdeva. Working with a dynamic team in a supportive environment you will be trained to become expert in microbiology, molecular biology, protein chemistry, enzymology, dynamic electrochemistry and analytical chemistry.

Informal enquiries can be made to Prof Julea Butt ( with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. The successful candidate should hold (or expect to obtain) a UK Honours Degree (or equivalent) at 2.1 or above in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Natural Sciences, Microbiology,   Chemical Engineering or a related subject and have interests in synthetic biology, chemical biology, biotechnology and green chemistry.


Transforming Exoelectrogens for Biotechnology using Synthetic Biology.
TerAvest M, Ajo-Franklin C.
Biotechnology and Bioengineering (2016) 113: 687-697

The Crystal Structure of a Biological Insulated Transmembrane Molecular Wire.
Edwards M, White G, Butt J, Richardson D, Clarke T.
Cell (2020) 181:665-673

His/Met Heme Ligation in the PioA Outer Membrane Cytochrome Enabling Light-driven Extracellular Electron Transfer by Rhodopseudomonas palustris TIE-1.
Li D-B, Edwards M, Blake A, Newton-Payne S, van Wonderen S, Piper S, Jenner L, Sokol K, Reisner E, van Wonderen J, Clarke T, Butt J.
Nanotechnology (2020) 31:354002.