The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Derek R. Lovley

Distinguished Professor

Research in our laboratory focuses on the physiology and ecology of anaerobic microorganisms and their practical applications. A primary emphasis is microbial electron exchange with electronics, other cells, and minerals. The research is multi-disciplinary employing: synthetic biology, genetics, biochemistry, electrochemistry, physiology, environmental meta-omics, genome-scale metabolic modeling, and engineering.  Ecological studies focus on anaerobic environments in which microorganisms play an important role in the cycling of carbon, metals, nutrients, or contaminants.  Bioenergy research focuses on: artificial photosynthesis in which renewable electricity powers microbial conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels and other organic commodities; the anaerobic conversion of wastes to methane; and harvesting electricity from waste organic matter.  Areas of particular current interest are: mechanisms for interspecies electron transfer; the role of electrically conductive pili in diverse microorganisms; and exploiting electrically conductive pili as a novel, sustainably produced, electronic material.

Current Research

Our current research is focused on the potential for developing novel nanoelectronic sensors and nanowire composite materials from electrically conductive synthetic protein nanowires (e-SPNs).  e-SPNs are a revolutionary electronic material that represent a new ‘green’ frontier in electronics manufacture.  e-SPNs are sustainably produced from renewable feedstocks with microorganisms, avoiding the harsh chemical conditions associated with the production of many electronic materials.  There are no toxic components in the final product.  Although e-SPNs are comprised of protein, they are remarkably chemically and physically robust.  e-SPN conductivity can be tuned through genetic manipulation over the full range from semi-conductive to conductivities that rival those of carbon nanotubes.  e-SPNs can be genetically functionalized with a diversity of linkers to facilitate sensing capabilities for diverse materials (chemicals, gases, biologics) and the fabrication of polymer/e-SPN composite materials.   The biocompatibility and unique sensing capabilities of e-SPNs make them ideal candidates for the development of wearable and in-body sensors.  Research on e-SPN design for specific sensing applications and engineering of the nanowire devices is under way.

Academic Background

University of Connecticut  B.A. 1975 Biological Sciences
Clark University M.A. 1978 Biological Sciences
Michigan State University Ph.D. 1982 Microbiology

Lovley DR, Holmes DE. 2020. Protein Nanowires: The electrification of the microbial world and maybe our own. J Bacteriol 202:e00331-20.
Ueki T, Walker DJF, Woodard TL, Nevin KP, Nonnenmann S, Lovley DR. 2020. An Escherichia coli chassis for production of electrically conductive protein nanowires. ACS Synthetic Biology 9:647-654.
Liu X, Gao H, Ward J, Liu X, Yin B, Fu T, Chen J, Lovley DR, Yao J. 2020. Power generation from ambient humidity using protein nanowires. Nature 578:550-554.
Fu T, Liu X, Gao H, Ward JE, Liu X, Yin B, Wang Z, Zhuo Y, Walker DJF, Yang J, Chen J, Lovley DR, Yao J. 2020. Bioinspired bio-voltage memristors. Nature Communications 11:1861.
Walker DJF, Nevin KP, Nonnenmann SS, Holmes DE, Woodard TL, Ward JE, Rotaru A-E, Mcinerney MJ, Lovley DR. 2020. Syntrophus conductive pili demonstrate that common hydrogen-donating syntrophs can have a direct electron transfer option. ISME J 14:837-846.
Smith AF, Liu X, Woodard TL, Emrick T, J.M. J, Lovley DR, Yao J. 2020. Bioelectronic protein nanowire sensors for ammonia detection. Nano Research 13:1479-1484.
Liu X, Fu T, Ward J, Gao H, Yin B, Woodard TL, Lovley DR, Yao J. 2020. Multifunctional protein nanowire humidity sensors. Advanced Electronic Materials 6:2000721.
Lovley DR, Walker DJF. 2019. Geobacter protein nanowires. Frontiers in Microbiology 10:2078.
Ueki T, Walker DJF, Tremblay P-L, Nevin KP, Ward JE, Woodard TL, Nonnenmann SS, Lovley DR. 2019. Decorating the outer surface of microbially produced protein nanowires with peptides. ACS Synthetic Biology 8:1809-1817.
Tang H-Y, Holmes DE, Ueki T, Palacios PA, Lovley DR. 2019. Iron corrosion via direct metal-microbe electron transfer. mBio 10:e00303-19.
Walker DJF, Martz E, Holmes DE, Zhou Z, Nonnenmann SS, Lovley DR. 2019. The archaellum of Methanospirillum hungatei is electrically conductive. mBio 10:e00579-19.
Sun Y-L, Tang H--Y, Ribbe A, Duzhko V, Woodard TL, Ward JE, Nevin KP, Nonnenmann S, Russell TP, Emrick T, Lovley DR. 2018. Conductive composite materials fabricated with microbially produced protein nanowires. Small 14:1802624.
Ueki T, Nevin KP, Woodard TL, Aklujkar MA, Holmes DE, Lovley DR. 2018. Construction of a Geobacter strain with exceptional growth on cathodes Frontiers in Microbiology 9:1512.
Walker DJF, Adhikari RY, Holmes DE, Ward JE, Woodard TL, Nevin KP, Lovley DR. 2018. Electrically conductive pili from genes of phylogenetically diverse microorganisms. ISME J 12:48-58.
Contact Info

400 Morrill IV North
639 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003-9292

(413) 695-1690