Low Energy Atomic Models Suggesting a Pilus Structure that could Account for Electrical Conductivity of Geobacter sulfurreducens Pili

Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 22:6:23385. doi: 10.1038/srep23385.


The metallic-like electrical conductivity of Geobacter sulfurreducens pili has been documented with multiple lines of experimental evidence, but there is only a rudimentary understanding of the structural features which contribute to this novel mode of biological electron transport. In order to determine if it was feasible for the pilin monomers of G. sulfurreducens to assemble into a conductive filament, theoretical energy-minimized models of Geobacter pili were constructed with a previously described approach, in which pilin monomers are assembled using randomized structural parameters and distance constraints. The lowest energy models from a specific group of predicted structures lacked a central channel, in contrast to previously existing pili models. In half of the no-channel models the three N-terminal aromatic residues of the pilin monomer are arranged in a potentially electrically conductive geometry, sufficiently close to account for the experimentally observed metallic like conductivity of the pili that has been attributed to overlapping pi-pi orbitals of aromatic amino acids. These atomic resolution models capable of explaining the observed conductive properties of Geobacter pili are a valuable tool to guide further investigation of the metallic-like conductivity of the pili, their role in biogeochemical cycling, and applications in bioenergy and bioelectronics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electric Conductivity*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial*
  • Geobacter / physiology*
  • Models, Theoretical*