Microbial communities associated with electrodes harvesting electricity from a variety of aquatic sediments

Microb Ecol. 2004 Aug;48(2):178-90. doi: 10.1007/s00248-003-0004-4. Epub 2004 Jun 17.


The microbial communities associated with electrodes from underwater fuel cells harvesting electricity from five different aquatic sediments were investigated. Three fuel cells were constructed with marine, salt-marsh, or freshwater sediments incubated in the laboratory. Fuel cells were also deployed in the field in salt marsh sediments in New Jersey and estuarine sediments in Oregon, USA. All of the sediments produced comparable amounts of power. Analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences after 3-7 months of incubation demonstrated that all of the energy-harvesting anodes were highly enriched in microorganisms in the delta-Proteobacteria when compared with control electrodes not connected to a cathode. Geobacteraceae accounted for the majority of delta-Proteobacterial sequences or all of the energy-harvesting anodes, except the one deployed at the Oregon estuarine site. Quantitative PCR analysis of 16S rRNA genes and culturing studies indicated that Geobacteraceae were 100-fold more abundant on the marine-deployed anodes versus controls. Sequences most similar to microorganisms in the family Desulfobulbaceae predominated on the anode deployed in the estuarine sediments, and a significant proportion of the sequences recovered from the freshwater anodes were closely related to the Fe(III)-reducing isolate, Geothrix fermentans. There was also a specific enrichment of microorganisms on energy harvesting cathodes, but the enriched populations varied with the sediment/water source. Thus, future studies designed to help optimize the harvesting of electricity from aquatic sediments or waste organic matter should focus on the electrode interactions of these microorganisms which are most competitive in colonizing anodes and cathodes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Biodiversity*
  • Bioelectric Energy Sources / microbiology*
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Primers
  • Electrodes / microbiology
  • Gammaproteobacteria / genetics*
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Restriction Mapping
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S