Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



The ISME Journal (2008) 2, 1146–1156; doi:10.1038/ismej.2008.48


This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


Significant effort is currently focused on microbial fuel cells (MFCs) as a source of renewable energy. Most studies concentrate on operation at mesophilic temperatures. However, anaerobic digestion studies have reported on the superiority of thermophilic operation and demonstrated a net energy gain in terms of methane yield. As such, our studies focused on MFC operation and microbiology at 55 °C. Over a 100-day operation, these MFCs were stable and achieved a power density of 37mW m–2 with a coulombic efficiency of 89%. To infer activity and taxonomic identity of dominant members of the electricity-producing community, we performed phylogenetic microarray and clone library analysis with small subunit ribosomal RNA (16S rRNA) and ribosomal RNA gene (16S rDNA). The results illustrated the dominance (80% of clone library sequences) of the Firmicutes in electricity production. Similarly, rRNA sequences from Firmicutes accounted for 50% of those taxa that increased in relative abundance from current-producing MFCs, implying their functional role in current production. We complemented these analyses by isolating the first organisms from a thermophilic MFC. One of the isolates, a Firmicutes Thermincola sp. strain JR, not only produced more current than known organisms (0.42 mA) in an H-cell system but also represented the first demonstration of direct anode reduction by a member of this phylum. Our research illustrates the importance of using a variety of molecular and culture-based methods to reliably characterize bacterial communities. Consequently, we revealed a previously unidentified functional role for Gram-positive bacteria in MFC current generation.

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