Electron movement – what scientists call electron transfer – powers many of life’s functions. For example, a good deal of the energy we derive from the foods we eat is captured by a process that removes electrons from food molecules, like sugar or fat, and transfers them to the oxygen we breathe.
Scientists are trying to harvest electricity from biology to power our technologies and produce new products, such as high-value medical compounds and hydrogen gas as a clean fuel source. Although we have a lot of ability to control electron transfer in metals or semiconductors, for example in batteries, our control over electrons in living, biological systems is more limited. Researchers know a lot about electron transfer over very small distances — say across tens of atoms — but the process of moving electrons over larger distances — even the length of one cell— remains somewhat of a mystery.
In a new study, recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the labs of David M. Kramer, Michigan State University John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor, and Daniel Ducat, associate professor in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laborator, explore how electrons can move across long distances within biomaterials, such as proteins. Understanding the factors that control electron transfer in a biological context is critical to advances in diverse fields, including bioenergy, biosynthesis and disease.
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