Meet the bionic mushroom that can generate electricity

Jan Cross
November 10, 2018

Cyanobacteria are known among bio-engineers for their ability to generate small jolts of electricity, but until now it has been hard to keep them alive in artificial conditions.

To collect the electricity, the researchers 3-D printed an "electronic ink" made up of graphene nanoribbons that form a branched network.

A team of scientists, which includedtwo Indian-origin scientists, at Stevens Institute of Technology of New Jersey in the U.S. have successfully generated a small amount of electricity from the humble white button mushroom.

A bionic mushroom. Image credit: Joshi et al, doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b02642.

Researchers in New Jersey have integrated microbes with nanomaterials to generate electricity via a mushroom, an advance in engineered symbiosis that could lead to designer bio-hybrid materials. Now, a team of USA researchers say they've found a way to make environmentally friendly energy using bionic mushrooms covered in bacteria.

The research, published in the journal Nano Letters, is part of a wider effort by scientists to understand how biological machinery can be hijacked and put to good use.

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"The mushrooms essentially serve as a suitable environmental substrate with advanced functionality of nourishing the energy-producing cyanobacteria", postdoctoral fellow Sudeep Joshi said in a statement. Manoor says this network of nanoribbons is akin to "needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it".

Shining a light on the mushroom activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis, generating a current of about 65 nA. This bio-ink was printed in a spiral pattern that intersected with the electronic ink of the nanoribbons.

The researchers showed that the amount of electricity the bacteria produce can vary depending on the density and alignment with which they are packed - the more densely packed together they are, the more electricity they produce. The researchers wanted to see if they can manipulate the cyanobacteria to produce electricity for a longer period of time with the right conditions. Sudeep Joshi, also an author of the study, explained that the white button mushroom nourished the cyanobacteria as well, allowing it to generate electricity far longer than if it was cultivated on a silicone.

'With this work, we can imagine enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications, ' Mannoor said.

It is noted that this approach can be combined mushrooms with different microbes: some of them will be able to Shine and others to produce fuel. "By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realise many other wonderful designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defence, healthcare and many other fields".

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