Scientists, including those of Indian origin, have created a bionic device that generates green power by 3D-printing clusters of cyanobacteria on an ordinary white button mushroom.
The researchers took an ordinary white button mushroom from a grocery store and made it bionic, supercharging it with clusters of cyanobacteria that create electricity and swirls of graphene nanoribbons that can collect the current.
A team of researchers led by Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi from Stevens Institute of Technology in the US wanted to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria.
In their scenario, the mushroom would provide shelter, moisture and nutrients, while bacteria 3D-printed on the mushroom’s cap would supply energy by photosynthesis.
The reseacrh team showed that graphene nanoribbons printed alongside the bacteria could capture electrons released by the microbes during photosynthesis, producing bio-electricity.
Researchers used a robotic arm-based 3D printer to first print an “electronic ink” containing the graphene nanoribbons. This printed branched network serves as an electricity-collecting network atop the mushroom’s cap by acting like a nano-probe — to access bio-electrons generated inside the cyanobacterial cells.
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. At these locations, electrons could transfer through the outer membranes of the cyanobacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons. Shining a light on the mushrooms activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis, generating a photocurrent.
In addition to the cyanobacteria living longer in a state of engineered symbiosis, researchers showed that the amount of electricity these bacteria produce can vary depending on the density and alignment with which they are packed, such that the more densely packed together they are, the more electricity they produce.
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.