Visualization of charge propagation along individual pili proteins using ambient electrostatic force microscopy

Nat Nanotechnol. 2014 Dec;9(12):1012-7. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2014.236. Epub 2014 Oct 19.


The nanoscale imaging of charge flow in proteins is crucial to understanding several life processes, including respiration, metabolism and photosynthesis. However, existing imaging methods are only effective under non-physiological conditions or are limited to photosynthetic proteins. Here, we show that electrostatic force microscopy can be used to directly visualize charge propagation along pili of Geobacter sulfurreducens with nanometre resolution and under ambient conditions. Charges injected at a single point into individual, untreated pili, which are still attached to cells, propagated over the entire filament. The mobile charge density in the pili, as well as the temperature and pH dependence of the charge density, were similar to those of carbon nanotubes and other organic conductors. These findings, coupled with a lack of charge propagation in mutated pili that were missing key aromatic amino acids, suggest that the pili of G. sulfurreducens function as molecular wires with transport via delocalized charges, rather than the hopping mechanism that is typical of biological electron transport.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Fimbriae Proteins / metabolism*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial* / metabolism
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial* / ultrastructure
  • Geobacter* / metabolism
  • Geobacter* / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electrochemical, Scanning / methods*


  • Fimbriae Proteins