Anyone who's visited a middle-school science fair is familiar the potato's ability to generate electricity. Now scientists from New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology have discovered a new source of electricity that grows in the ground (and goes great with a salad): classic white button mushrooms.
The scientists added 3D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria to the mushroom's cap, which gave the fungi the ability to generate electricity. Researchers also put in graphene nanoribbons to collect the current.
Betting on Bacteria
Cyanobacteria have been in the news lately for negative reasons, as the blue-green algae that's flooding Florida's beaches. But among bioengineers, cyanobacteria have a much better reputation, as they're known for its ability to generate electricity.
That ability has been difficult to harness because cyanobacteria simply can't survive on artificial bio-compatible surfaces. Researchers Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi wondered if mushrooms, which naturally play host to a wide array of bacteria, could find room on their caps for cyanobacteria to live for an extended period. Mannoor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, says in a press statement:
“In this case, our system-this bionic mushroom-produces electricity. 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.”
The cyanobacteria gelled with the mushrooms comfortably. Cells placed on a mushroom cap lasted several days longer those left on a piece of silicone. “We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms,” Joshi says.
Making a Bionic Mushroom
As for collecting the current, the team used a robotic arm doubling as a 3D-printer to create what they call an "electronic ink" made of graphene nanoribbons-tiny strips of graphene seen as alternatives to silicon semiconductors. Manoor says this network of nanoribbons is akin to "needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it."
With an electronic ink laid down, Manoor and Joshi printed a bio-ink containing the cyanobacteria. This bio-ink was printed in a spiral pattern that intersected with the electronic ink of the nanoribbons. From there, all the scientists had to do was flash a light on their new bionic mushroom. The light generated cyanobacterial photosynthesis, and thus a mushroom-born electrical current was generated.
“With this work, we can imagine enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications,” Mannoor says. “For example, some bacteria can glow, while others sense toxins or produce fuel.”
Source: Stevens Institute of Technology
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