Scientists Make ‘Bionic Mushrooms’ that Create Electricity

A white button mushroom collects electricity generated by densely packed 3D-printed cyanobacteria (green) Credit: Sudeep Joshi, Stevens Institute of Technology.

Scientists are on a constant quest to replace fossil fuels with alternative, environmentally friendly sources of energy. In this context, researchers have come out with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sorts mushroom; a bionic mushroom that can generate electricity. The process will reportedly be used one day to power devices.

The bionic mushroom covered with bacteria is capable of generating electricity and, strands of graphene that could collect the current. On shining a light on the structure, the bacteria’s ability to photosynthesize is activated, and as the cells harvest the glow – they generate a tiny amount of electricity called ‘photocurrent’. The process is supported by the fungi, which offers the bacteria a viable surface on which to grow and also nutrients to stay alive. The research is led by scientists Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi from Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey. They wanted to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria, and their research was recently published in the journal Nano Letters.

In the context, Professor Manu Mannoor stated that their system of bionic mushroom produced electricity. He reiterated that by integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nano-scale materials capable of collecting the current, they were able to better access the unique properties of both and create an entirely new functional bionic system.

Bio-engineers recognize cyanobacteria for their ability to generate small jolts of electricity. And, till now it has been difficult to keep them alive in artificial conditions. However, by creating a hybrid system that encourages the mushrooms and bacteria to collaborate, the researchers think that the problem can be solved.

The systems were reportedly created by 3D printing, in which an electronic ink contains strands of graphene and following this with a bio-ink that holds the bacteria onto the cap of the mushroom. When light shines on the mushroom, the bacteria reportedly photosynthesize and a tiny current of around 65 nanoamps is passed into the network of graphene.

The researchers think an array of these mushrooms would be sufficient to power an LED light. Mannoor reiterated that this work could have enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications. He added that by integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, they could realise quite a few remarkable designer bio-hybrids for the environment, healthcare, defence, and other fields.

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