Genetically-engineered viruses may power devices of the future

By on May 14, 2012, 6:00 PM

Riding along a fine line between modern day technology and creepy science fiction, Department of Energy researchers unveiled a device which generates energy by harnessing the electro-mechanical properties of genetically-engineered viruses. The nanotechnology-based power generator leverages piezoelectric principles, an old concept used in everything from guitar pickups to automobiles. In short, when pressure is applied to the device, the genetically-altered viruses contained within the device produce an electric charge.

Piezoelectric devices work on the fact that physical stress can be converted into electricity, just like what happens when a person cranks a dynamo-powered emergency radio or when children hop around in their whimsical, LED-adorned shoes. Unfortunately, the substances used to enable this kind of reaction are typically hazardous and difficult to work with. This nudged researchers to investigate alternative ways of generating electro-mechanical current: viruses. What else?

Unlike some more menacing varieties, this genetically engineered virus is a bacteriophage, or "macrophage". That means the virus in question is benign to all but bacteria -- that's a good thing for more complex organisms like you and me.

Virus-based piezoelectric energy generator

Lovingly labeled as "M13", scientists had modified the rod-shaped viruses, giving them a coating of roughly 2700 charged proteins. Next, the scientists increased M13's potential voltage by adding a handful of negatively and positively charged amino acids to the ends of each rod. Researchers then began stacking layers of the altered macrophage together until they discovered the ideal number of layers to sandwich together.

So far, researchers have shown a paper thin, 1cm square of the material can generate about 400 millivolts. That may not seem like a lot, but with a paper-thin form factor, such a power-generating invention could fit just about anywhere. Some suggested applications include keyboard membranes and skin-mounted devices.




User Comments: 25

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Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Interesting possibilities for wheel liners in EVs to harvest power while driving, maybe?

Guest said:

Will they power the device by spreading or mutating? I'm confused.

Guest said:

What if the virus gets out? Wont we get sick. Specially if its skin mounted? I hope we dont use a very dangerous virus that would be stupid... Are there such thing as good viruses? Like there is good bacteria's?

Guest said:

Honey . . . Where is my super suit?!

Guest said:

Hand cranked dynamos are magnetic. Shoe LEDs are battery powered. Most guitar pickups are magnetic rather than piezoelectric. A better example of a piezoelectric device would be the starter on your outdoor gas grill.

Guest said:

Benign to humans and higher life forms? We rely on bacteria to survive, in fact there are more bacterial cells in the human body than tissue cells. I am having a sci-fi disaster film vision of this stuff creating current in my stomach flora.

Guest said:

What if the virus gets out? Wont we get sick. Specially if its skin mounted? I hope we dont use a very dangerous virus that would be stupid... Are there such thing as good viruses? Like there is good bacteria's?"

Clearly some folks don't actually read an entire article before posting a comment. NO, the viruses are not harmful to us, only other bacteria. Yes, this is a great leap forward and I hope it will catch the eye/s of investors. Think about this, never having to charge your cell phone, laptop or mp3 player, cool huh?

There are numerous and varied technologies currently in development to enable just what I mentioned. Every little bit no matter how insignificant elevates the need for foreign energy resources

Guest said:

Just a thought, if it is benign to all but bacteria why cant it be used in treating bacterial infections such as the one the young women in Georigia is battling

Guest said:

Try reading the article. It specifys that its only harmful to bacteria.

Guest said:

It is staggering how the lack of understanding of simple microbiology, as well as, the end of the world obsessed hollywood hype breeds such fools. Read the article, google what you don't understand and then formulate an opinion. You people with your ridiculous fears are the reason massive scientific advances are hindered. If you want to live in the stone age move to Afghanistan or Iran. Its a wonder that women are allowed to vote without getting stoned to death in this country with all these mental midgets running around using the internet and such.

Guest said:

Read more in general, so that you don't insult people for basing their opinion on knowledge outside the article. As another commenter has pointed out, the human body contains even more bacteria cells than human tissue cells. Saying this virus is "only harmful to bacteria" is absolutely terrifying if you know what you're made of.

Guest said:

Terminology is incorrect to call this a macrophage. Otherwise, this is a good article.

Guest said:

M13 is not harmful to all bacteria - it is harmful only to specific strains of Escherichia coli.

Guest said:

GREAT! First, they use monkey serum to fight disease and voila, AIDS is born! Now, they want carte blanche to destroy the human race. Send these guys to the gulag!

Guest said:

Powered Infantry Armor!!!

Guest said:

Thats how it always starts. Oh its harmless and will make life easier for us. Till it spreads and causes society to crumble. Just like history has shown us. If we would have known what bringing fast spreading virus like organisms around we would have picked our own damn cotton.

ramonsterns said:

I want to shoot lightning out of my arse.

Guest said:

"All these mental midgets out there" . . . You, sir, are an ass.

Guest said:

This has micro-Frankenstein run amok written all over it.

Guest said:

Maybe the viri are using us... :O its all planned

Guest said:

Bacteriophages are viruses only capable of infecting bacteria. The differences between animal cells and bacteria are so great that animal cells cannot become infected by the virus. It's similar to how some viruses that infect humans don't infect cats, and cats and humans are pretty similar--being both animals and mammals. Bacteria and humans, on the other hand, are extremely different organisms.

It's not so much a matter of good or bad virus--they're pretty bad for the bacteria--as it is a matter of a specialized virus.

Guest said:

I think it's wrong to play with this type of microorganism.

what if this genetically-engineered virus powers my vibrating chair but by one fluke of nature mutates, do I get a cold shoulder? do I call a technician? do I call a virologist?

yorro said:

Mutated viruses that could end mankind is only in the movies. Then again so is "Genetically Engineered Virus"

Guest said:

''Unlike some more menacing varieties, this genetically engineered virus is a bacteriophage, or "macrophage". That means the virus in question is benign to all but bacteria -- that's a good thing for more complex organisms like you and me.''

~ Umbrella PR.

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