Power of the humble mushroom: scientists produce electricity from ‘bionic mushroom’

Olive Hawkins
November 9, 2018

Cyanobacteria are common on land and in the oceans, and scientists are intrigued by their ability to turn light into energy via photosynthesis.

The research is part of understanding of cell's biological machinery and how to use those intricate molecular gears and levers to fabricate new technologies and useful defence, healthcare and the environment.

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.

The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom.

Stevens Institute of Technology researchers Manu Mannoor, Sudeep Joshi and Ellexis Cook set out to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria. "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". "These are the next steps, to optimise the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED."A big plus for the experiment was the fact that the bugs on the fungus lasted several days longer compared with cyanobacteria placed on other surfaces". "As we discussed them", said Sudeep Joshi, the author of the new study, "we realised they have a rich microbiota of their own, so we thought why not use the mushrooms as a support for the cyanobacteria".

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They then created a bio-ink with the cyanobacteria that sat atop the mushroom cap in a spiral pattern.

He added, "We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms", reports Newsweek.

An electrode network and cyanobacteria were 3D printed on a mushroom to generate bio-electricity.

A robotic arm-based 3D printer was used to first print an "electronic ink", which contained graphene nanoribbons. Manoor says this network of nanoribbons is akin to "needles sticking into a single cell to access electrical signals inside it". In order to capture the energy superconductive graphene nanoribbons were also printed in a particular pattern that crossed path with bacteria, capturing the electrons that were released on the surface of the bacteria layers. The more densely packed the bacteria, the more electricity they produce, which is where 3-D printing came in handy.

'With this work, we can imagine enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications, ' Mannoor said. "For example, some bacteria can glow, while others sense toxins or produce fuel", said Mannoor.

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