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A cost-effective microbial fuel cell to detect and select for photosynthetic electrogenic activity in algae and cyanobacteria

Abstract

This work describes the development of an easily constructed, cost-effective photosynthetic microbial fuel cell design with highly reproducible electrochemical characteristics that can be used to screen algae and cyanobacteria for photosynthetic electrogenic activity. It is especially suitable for benthic varieties, those that attach to surfaces. The anode chamber of the cell uses disposable polystyrene sample bottles (pottles) with a simple-to-apply carbon coating. These chambers can be used to grow photosynthetic microorganisms without a cathode for electrochemical characterization or with a cathode and load applied to provide electrogenic selective pressure. The utility of the design for screening, isolating and analysing photosynthetic electrogenic microorganisms under a wide variety of conditions is demonstrated. Several genera of benthic cyanobacteria from both New Zealand and Antarctica were shown to be electrogenic including Pseudanabaena, Leptolyngbya, Chroocococales, Phormidesmis, Microcoleus, Nostoc and Phormidium. A benthic strain of the eukaryote Paulschulzia pseudovolvox (Chlorophyceae) was isolated and identified, which had very good electrogenic qualities.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Veronica Beuzenberg (Cawthron) for technical assistance and comments on the manuscript, Dr. Kirsty Smith (Cawthron) for help with phylogeny, the Cawthron Institute phytoplankton group for phytoplankton identifications and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment grant LVL0802 “Direct Electron Transfer Biotechnologies” for funding.

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Correspondence to Michael A. Packer.

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This paper was presented at the Second Asia Oceania Algae Innovation Summit.

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Supplementary Figure 1
figure5

Photomicrograph of Paulschulzia pseudovolvox. Scale bar = 20 μm (JPEG 38 kb)

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High resolution image (TIFF 1541 kb)

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Luimstra, V.M., Kennedy, SJ., Güttler, J. et al. A cost-effective microbial fuel cell to detect and select for photosynthetic electrogenic activity in algae and cyanobacteria. J Appl Phycol 26, 15–23 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10811-013-0051-2

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Keywords

  • Photosynthetic microbial fuel cell
  • Electrogenic microorganism
  • Benthic cyanobacteria
  • Disposable pottle
  • Benthic Paulschulzia pseudovolvox