Bionic mushroom uses bacteria and graphene to generate electricity

Christopher Davidson
November 9, 2018

'In this case, our system-this bionic mushroom-produces electricity, ' said Manu Mannoor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, US.

Though this isn't enough to power an electronic device, the researchers say a group of mushrooms could create enough current to light up an LED and shows the potential for future versions.

Over the course of 2.5 billion years, cyanobacteria have evolved the capacity to efficiently absorb light in order to produce energy.

The research, by Stevens Institute of Technology in the USA are part of a broader effort to better improve our understanding of cells biological machinery and how to use those intricate molecular gears and levers to fabricate new technologies and useful systems for defense, healthcare and the environment.

Cyanobacteria's electricity-production abilities are well-documented, but the microbes can't survive for long when integrated into synthetic materials. 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.

"The mushrooms essentially serve as a suitable environmental substrate with advanced functionality of nourishing the energy producing cyanobacteria", said Joshi.

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

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The graphene ribbons, strips of a single layer of carbon atoms, act like imaginary needles to tap the electricity from the bacteria.

An electrode network and cyanobacteria were 3D printed on a mushroom to generate bio-electricity. Next, utilizing a bio-ink containing cyanobacteria, they 3D-printed a spiral pattern over top of the first pattern.

At these locations, electrons could transfer through the outer membranes of the cyanobacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons.

When scientists shined a light on the mushroom, the photons triggered the cyanobacteria's photosynthesis, generating a current that was picked up by the electronic ink.

Dr Mannoor 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".

The team says they are working on ways to generate higher currents across complex arrangements of bacterial species and perhaps expanding to use other varieties of "useful" bacteria that exhibit unique properties such as bioluminescence and virulence.

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

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