Bacteria to power your gadgets

Posted by Mike Magee

A technique that tethers bacteria to electrodes means your future gadget could be powered by microbes in the future.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia in the UK claim that it’s a breakthrough, in an endeavor that also involved Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the US Department of Energy and the Biotechnology and Bioligcal Sciences Research Council.

The marine bacteria belong to the genus of shewanella oneidensis, and the scientists made a synthetic version which shuttle electrons from the inside of the microbe to the rock.

Dr Tom Clarke, at the UAE, said: “Our research shows that these proteins can directly 'touch' the mineral surface and produce an electric current, meaning that is possible for the bacteria to lie on the surface of a metal or mineral and conduct electricity through their cell membranes.

“This is the first time that we have been able to actually look at how the components of a bacterial cell membrane are able to interact with different substances, and understand how differences in metal and mineral interactions can occur on the surface of a cell.

“These bacteria show great potential as microbial fuel cells, where electricity can be generated from the breakdown of domestic or agricultural waste products.

“Another possibility is to use these bacteria as miniature factories on the surface of an electrode, where chemicals reactions take place inside the cell using electrical power supplied by the electrode through these proteins.”

There’s no word on when the research will make it from the labs to your iPad or notebook.