Novel ‘bionic mushrooms’ can produce electricity

Novel ‘bionic mushrooms’ can produce electricity

Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology recently transformed an average white button mushroom into a bionic mushroom by supercharging it with 3D-printed, electricity-generating cyanobacteria clusters and graphene nanoribbon swirls that collect the current.

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

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. In their scenario, the mushroom would provide shelter, moisture and nutrients, while bacteria 3D-printed on the mushroom's cap would supply energy by photosynthesis. "We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms".

To make their unusual bionic mushroom a reality, global scientists printed an "electronic ink" containing graphene nanoribbons.

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Imagine needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it, said Mannoor. At these sites, electrons could transfer through the outer membranes of the bacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons. Graphene nanoribbons printed alongside the bacteria could capture electrons released by the microbes during photosynthesis, producing bio-electricity. When they shined a light on the mushroom, it activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis and produced a photocurrent. When cyanobacteria are more densely packed, they're more likely to generate electricity.

"Our designer bio-hybrid (Bionic Mushroom in our case) is a true example of a green bioelectricity generator as it is a three-dimensional seamless integration of cyanobacteria, mushroom (part of nature), and graphene nanoribbons", said study author Sudeep Joshi in an interview with IFLScience, continuing that although the team has successfully demonstrated a working method toward clean and green energy, there is still a long road ahead in competing with fossil fuels.

"Our 3D-printing approach could be used to organize other bacterial species in complex arrangements to perform useful functions, such as bioluminescence", they said.

'By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realize many other awesome designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defense, healthcare and many other fields'.

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