The Malvankar Lab

Welcome to Malvankar Lab at Yale University!

Our overarching goal is to define the mechanisms by which microbes interact with and manipulate their environment, with the ultimate goal of engineering these interactions to control microbial pathophysiology and ecology.

Our research is focused on how microbes use electron transfer via hair-like protein appendages called pili for communication, survival and biofilm formation.

We have found out that common soil bacteria Geobacter use pili as “nanowires” with metallic-like conductivity for respiration (Nature Nano 2011) and to share energy (Science 2010). We have also developed a new charge imaging technique to visualize bacterial electron transfer via pili and cytochrome proteins (Nature Nano 2014). This field has seen a recent explosion of interest as a diversity of microbial species have been found to transfer electrons via pili and cytochrome proteins (Nature 526 (2015) pg. 513, 531, 587, and Nature (2016).

Four major research themes of our lab:

1) Protein Structure:  We are identifying structural and molecular basis of electron transfer in conductive pili using Cryo-EM and nano-FTIR, building on our previous work suggesting closely packed aromatic amino acids in pili confer π-stacking and conductivity (mBio 2015).

2) Electronic Structure: We are elucidating the biochemical and biophysical mechanism of electron transfer in pili by applying various electrochemical and spectroscopic methods.

3) Conductivity Mechanism: Existing models of biological electron transfer cannot fully explain such high conductivity in pili proteins. We are building a new fundamental framework by performing conductivity measurements as a function of several physical and chemical probes. 

4) Bacterial infections: Most bacteria cannot cause diseases without pili. In collaboration with Yale Cystic Fibrosis Center, we are evaluating how electrical charge interactions helps bacterial adhesion to the host as well as metabolism using Pseudomonas aeruginosa as a model system.