Mushroom hosts cyanobacteria to generate electricity

Research: 'Bionic mushrooms' fuse nanotech, bacteria and fungi

The work, reported in the November 7 issue of Nano Letters, may sound like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland, but the hybrids 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.

Ordinary white button mushrooms have been transformed into "bionic" fungi capable of producing eco-friendly electricity with a little help from some bacteria and nanotechnology. But among bioengineers, cyanobacteria have a much better reputation, as they're known for its ability to generate electricity. However, researchers have been limited in using these microbes in bioengineered systems because cyanobacteria do not survive long on artificial bio-compatible surfaces. Experiments showed that the setup generated small amounts of electricity and lasted for several days longer compared to silicone and dead mushrooms used as controls. Now, a team of U.S. researchers say they've found a way to make environmentally friendly energy using bionic mushrooms covered in bacteria. They say their research shows the possibilities of "engineered symbiosis" between organisms and nonliving materials, which they characterize as different worlds.

A robotic arm-based 3D printer was used to first print an "electronic ink", which contained graphene nanoribbons.

An electrode network and cyanobacteria were 3D printed on a mushroom to generate bio-electricity. In truth, the name is a little misleading: the key to the energy production isn't the mushroom itself: it's the photosynthesizing cyanobacteria being 3D-printed onto its cap. 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.


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". 3D printing allowed them to assemble the bacteria so as to boost their electricity-producing activity eight times more than cyanobacteria that was casted using a pipette.

"In this case, our system - this bionic mushroom - produces electricity", said Manu Mannoor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens.

"These are the next steps, to optimise the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED", he 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".

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