Research

These 'bionic mushrooms' may produce electricity

These 'bionic mushrooms' may produce electricity

Cyanobacteria -- single-celled organisms that are also known as blue algae -- use the sun's energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen by photosynthesis.

The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom.

Manu Mannoor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Institute, said: "By integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nanoscale materials capable of collecting the current, we were able to better access the unique properties of both, augment them, and create an entirely new functional bionic system". In truth, the name is a little misleading: the key to the energy production isn't the mushroom itself: it's the photosynthesizing cyanobacteria being 3D-printed onto its cap.

"We are looking to connect all the mushrooms in series, in an array, and we are also looking to pack more bacteria together", Sudeep Joshi was quoted as saying by BBC.

A bionic mushroom. Image credit: Joshi et al, doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02642. "Right now we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them and you can change their molecules to produce higher photo currents, via photosynthesis", said Sudeep Joshi."It's a new start; we call it engineered symbiosis".

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Technology has not yet been possible to generate enough electricity to power even the smallest device.

He added, "We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms", reports Newsweek. The team used a 3D printer with a robotic arm to print the electronic ink that contains the necessary graphene nanoribbons, which they placed them on top of the mushroom cap.

Mushrooms from the supermarket, coated with ribbons of graphene in order to create a network of electrodes to interact with the bacteria. Manoor says this network of nanoribbons is akin to "needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it". And it solves the problem that prevented to use them to generate electricity.

Joshi and Mannoor discovered they could produce more electricity depending on the density and alignment of the bacteria.

Dr Mannoor said: "By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realize many other unbelievable designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defense, healthcare and many other fields". "For example, some bacteria can glow, while others sense toxins or produce fuel", said Mannoor. "By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realise many other unbelievable designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defence, healthcare and many other fields".