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

1. Lovley, D. R. 2017. e-Biologics: Fabrication of sustainable electronics with ‘green’ biological materials. mBio 8:e00695-17.
2. Tan, Y., R. Y. Adhikari, N. S. Malvankar, J. E. Ward, T. L. Woodard, K. P. Nevin, and D. R. Lovley. 2017. Expressing the Geobacter metallireducens PilA in Geobacter sulfurreducens yields pili with exceptional conductivity. mBio 8:e02203-16.
3. Walker, D. J. F., R. Y. Adhikari, D. E. Holmes, J. E. Ward, T. L. Woodard, K. P. Nevin, and D. R. Lovley. 2017. Electrically conductive pili from genes of phylogenetically diverse microorganisms. bioRxiv:118059.
4. Lovley, D. R. 2017. Happy together: microbial communities that hook up to swap electrons. ISME J. 11:327-336.
5. Tan, Y., R. Y. Adhikari, N. S. Malvankar, S. Pi, J. E. Ward, T. L. Woodard, K. P. Nevin, Q. Xia, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2016. Synthetic biological protein nanowires with high conductivity. Small 12:4481–4485.
6. Adhikari, R. Y., N. S. Malvankar, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2016. Conductivity of individual Geobacter pili. RSC Advances 6:8354-8357.
7. Malvankar, N. S., M. Vargas, K. P. Nevin, P.-L. Tremblay, K. Evans-Lutterodt, D. Nykypanchuk, E. Martz, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2015. Structural basis for metallic-like conductivity in microbial nanowires. mBio 6:e00084-15.
8. Lovley, D. R., and N. S. Malvankar. 2015. Seeing is believing: novel imaging techniques help clarify microbial nanowire structure and function. Environ Microbiol 7:2209-2215.
9. Malvankar, N. S., S. E. Yalcin, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2014. Visualization of charge propagation along individual pili proteins using ambient electrostatic force microscopy. Nature Nanotechnology 9:1012-1017.
10. Malvankar, N. S., and D. R. Lovley. 2014. Microbial nanowires for bioenergy applications. Curr Opin. Biotechnol. 27:88-95.
11. Vargas, M., N. S. Malvankar, P.-L. Tremblay, C. Leang, J. A. Smith, P. Patel, O. Synoeyenbos-West, K. P. Nevin, and D. R. Lovley. 2013. Aromatic amino acids required for pili conductivity and long-range extracellular electron transport in Geobacter sulfurreducens mBio 4:e00105-13.
12. Malvankar, N. S., and D. R. Lovley. 2012. Microbial nanowires: a new paradigm for biological electron transfer and bioelectronics. ChemSusChem 5:1039– 1046.
13. Malvankar, N. S., M. Vargas, K. P. Nevin, A. E. Franks, C. Leang, B.-C. Kim, K. Inoue, T. Mester, S. F. Covalla, J. P. Johnson, V. M. Rotello, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2011. Tunable metallic-like conductivity in nanostructured biofilms comprised of microbial nanowires. Nature Nanotechnology 6:573-579.
14. Summers, Z. M., H. Fogarty, C. Leang, A. E. Franks, N. S. Malvankar, and D. R. Lovley. 2010. Direct exchange of electrons within aggregates of an evolved syntrophic co-culture of anaerobic bacteria. Science 330:1413-1415.
15. Reguera, G., K. D. McCarthy, T. Mehta, J. S. Nicoll, M. T. Tuominen, and D. R. Lovley. 2005. Extracellular electron transfer via microbial nanowires. Nature 435:1098-1101.
Contact Info

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

(413) 695-1690