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Starting cell-to-cell communication for highly efficient microbial electrochemistry (GENECHAT)

The Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Fellowships

What

Exoelectrogens are known for being able to transfer electrons extracellularly to their surroundings including solid-state minerals, conductive electrode, and neighboring microorganisms. We now have deep knowledge of how they work individually as microbial engineers that drive a variety of microbial electrochemical applications. However, major questions such as how they communicate with neighboring microbes still remain unanswered. Thus, GENECHAT aims to EXPLORE the cell-cell communication between exoelectrogens and neighboring microbes, UNVEIL the underlying mechanisms, and subsequently use the knowledge to MANIPULATE the microbiome on the electrode/minerals for more efficient electron transfer and, finally, to VALIDATE the knowledge with a specific microbial electrochemical application.

Why

GENECHAT will address a long-standing question in science of microbial electrochemistry, add to knowledge of bacterial communication, bring transformative understanding of the extracellular electron transfer mechanisms, and provide a novel tool for researchers to manage the microbial community for more efficient electron transfer and conductive biofilm development. This knowledge will open up new opportunities to fundamentally improve biogeochemical and microbial electrochemical processes and lead to cutting-edge applications, particularly in water treatment, environmental bioremediation and renewable energy production. This will subsequently be of importance in other fields, for example will shed new light on fundamental biogeochemistry in prediction of the global biogeochemical cycles.

How

GENECHAT comprises four work packages to achieve the overall aim. Firstly, we will select, characterize, identify and define the communicating communities which are the key driver of the project. Secondly, based on the defined microbial communities, the main cell-cell communication mechanisms will be deciphered. Thirdly, the key internal and external environmental factors affecting the communication will be identified. Lastly, we will use the knowledge from previous work packages to customize the microbial communities which will be validated in a proof-of-concept bioinorganic artificial photosynthesis system running for solar-to-chemicals conversion. During the project, a variety of physicochemical, electrochemical, mathematic, biological, physiological and genetic tools will be used.

SSR

GENECHAT will provide multidisciplinary knowledge, which are fundamental for successful development of cutting-edge technologies and applications, to meet the grand challenges in clean water, sustainable energy sources, and reduction of greenhouse gas emission. For instance, microbial electrosynthesis of higher-value products using CO2 and renewable electricity can reduce significant amount of costs and carbon footprint. Thus, GENECHAT will fill the gap between fundamental science and applied research, consolidate the role of Denmark as frontrunner in circular economy and sustainability development and, finally, contribute to the betterment of society.