Bacterial systems are being extensively studied and modified for energy, sensors, and industrial chemistry; yet, their molecular scale structure and activity are poorly understood. Designing efficient bioengineered bacteria requires cellular understanding of enzyme expression and activity. An atomic force microscope (AFM) was modified to detect and analyze the activity of redox active enzymes expressed on the surface of E. coli. An insulated gold-coated metal microwire with only the tip conducting was used as an AFM cantilever and a working electrode in a three-electrode electrochemical cell. Bacteria were engineered such that alcohol dehydrogenase II (ADHII) was surface displayed. A quinone, an electron transfer mediator, was covalently attached site specifically to the displayed ADHII. The AFM probe was used to lift a single bacterium off the surface for electrochemical analysis in a redox-free buffer. An electrochemical comparison between two quinone containing mutants with different distances from the NAD(+) binding site in alcohol dehydrogenase II was performed. Electron transfer in redox active proteins showed increased efficiency when mediators are present closer to the NAD(+) binding site. This study suggests that an integrated conducting AFM used for single cell electrochemical analysis would allow detailed understanding of enzyme electron transfer processes to electrodes, the processes integral to creating efficiently engineered biosensors and biofuel cells.
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