A stochastic model for electron transfer in bacterial cables

Nicolò Michelusi, Sahand Pirbadian, Mohamed Y. El-Naggar, Urbashi Mitra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Biological systems are known to communicate by diffusing chemical signals in the surrounding medium. However, most of the recent literature has neglected the electron transfer mechanism occurring among living cells, and its role in cell-cell communication. Each cell relies on a continuous flow of electrons from its electron donor to its electron acceptor through the electron transport chain to produce energy in the form of the molecule adenosine triphosphate, and to sustain the cell's vital operations and functions. While the importance of biological electron transfer is well-known for individual cells, the past decade has also brought about remarkable discoveries of multi-cellular microbial communities that transfer electrons between cells and across centimeter length scales, e.g., biofilms and multi-cellular bacterial cables. These experimental observations open up new frontiers in the design of electron-based communications networks in microbial communities, which may coexist with the more well-known communication strategies based on molecular diffusion, while benefiting from a much shorter communication delay. This paper develops a stochastic model that links the electron transfer mechanism to the energetic state of the cell. The model is also extensible to larger communities, by allowing for electron exchange between neighboring cells. Moreover, the parameters of the stochastic model are fit to experimental data available in the literature, and are shown to provide a good fit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6948268
Pages (from-to)2402-2416
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Markov chain
  • Queuing theory
  • bacterial communication
  • cell energetics
  • electron transfer
  • energy harvesting
  • molecular diffusion.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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