Stevens Institute of Technology researchers Manu Mannoor, Sudeep Joshi and Ellexis Cook set out to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria. The artificial network acts as a junction for the electricity by accessing bio-electrons generated inside the cyanobacterial cells.
The "bionic" button mushroom developed by the Stevens Institute of Technology supercharged the standard fungus with 3-D printed clusters of cyanobacteria. Although the mushroom isn't strong enough to power a device, researchers say several of them could build up enough electrical current to light up an LED. The bionic mushroom they created could be used as another environmentally-friendly source of energy, according to IFL Science. Scientists used graphene nanoribbons, which are thin strips of a superconductor called "electronic ink", to capture the energy.
The research is 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 defence, healthcare and the environment.
"Next, they printed a" bio-ink" containing cyanobacteria onto the mushroom's cap in a spiral pattern intersecting with the electronic ink at multiple contact points. "We are looking to connect all the mushrooms in series, in an array, and we are also looking to pack more bacteria together", said Sudeep Joshi.
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In an email to USA TODAY, Mannoor said they integrated the microbes and mushroom in a way that "the cyanobacteria is able to make the energy by photosynthesis while the mushroom provide it with the suitable "shelter" to do so". When they shined a light on the mushroom, it activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis and produced a photocurrent.
They are now working on ways to generate higher currents using this system.
The amount of electricity generated by the "bionic mushroom" varies depending on the density and alignment with which the bacteria is packed, the authors reported in the journal Nano Letters. The researchers wanted to see if they can manipulate the cyanobacteria to produce electricity for a longer period of time with the right conditions.
"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. By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realise many other fantastic designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defence, healthcare and many other fields".