Pulse electromagnetic fields enhance extracellular electron transfer in magnetic bioelectrochemical systems

Huihui Zhou, Bingfeng Liu, Qisong Wang, Jianmin Sun, Guojun Xie, Nanqi Ren, Zhiyong Ren, Defeng Xing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Background: Microbial extracellular electron transfer (EET) is essential in driving the microbial interspecies interaction and redox reactions in bioelectrochemical systems (BESs). Magnetite (Fe3O4) and magnetic fields (MFs) were recently reported to promote microbial EET, but the mechanisms of MFs stimulation of EET and current generation in BESs are not known. This study investigates the behavior of current generation and EET in a state-of-the-art pulse electromagnetic field (PEMF)-assisted magnetic BES (PEMF-MBES), which was equipped with magnetic carbon particle (Fe3O4@N-mC)-coated electrodes. Illumina Miseq sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons was also conducted to reveal the changes of microbial communities and interactions on the anode in response to magnetic field. Results: PEMF had significant influences on current generation. When reactors were operated in microbial fuel cell (MFC) mode with pulse electromagnetic field (PEMF-MMFCs), power densities increased by 25.3-36.0% compared with no PEMF control MFCs (PEMF-OFF-MMFCs). More interestingly, when PEMF was removed, the power density dropped by 25.7%, while when PEMF was reintroduced, the value was restored to the previous level. Illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicon and principal component analysis (PCA) based on operational taxonomic units (OTUs) indicate that PEMFs led to the shifts in microbial community and changes in species evenness that decreased biofilm microbial diversity. Geobacter spp. were found dominant in all anode biofilms, but the relative abundance in PEMF-MMFCs (86.1-90.0%) was higher than in PEMF-OFF-MMFCs (82.5-82.7%), indicating that the magnetic field enriched Geobacter on the anode. The current generation of Geobacter-inoculated microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) presented the same change regularity, the accordingly increase or decrease corresponding with switch of PEMF, which confirmed the reversible stimulation of PEMFs on microbial electron transfer. Conclusion: The pulse electromagnetic field (PEMF) showed significant influence on state-of-the-art pulse magnetic bioelectrochemical systems (PEMF-MBES) in terms of current generation and microbial ecology. EET was instantaneously and reversibly enhanced in MBESs inoculated with either mixed-culture or Geobacter. PEMF notably decreased bacterial and archaeal diversities of the anode biofilms in MMFCs via changing species evenness rather than species richness, and facilitated specific enrichment of exoelectrogenic bacteria (Geobacter) on the anode surface. This study demonstrates a new magnetic approach for understanding and facilitating microbial electrochemical activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number238
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 16 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • General Energy
  • Biotechnology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


  • Magnetic bioelectrochemical system (MBES)
  • Magnetic carbon particles
  • Magnetic field
  • Microbial community
  • Microbial electrolysis cell
  • Microbial fuel cell
  • Pulse electromagnetic field


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