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Scientists built an electricity-producing bionic mushroom

"With this work, we can imagine enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications," researcher Manu Mannoor said.

By
Brooks Hays
Cyanobacteria cells produce electricity as a result of photosynthesis. Photo by Sudeep Joshi/Stevens Institute of Technology
Cyanobacteria cells produce electricity as a result of photosynthesis. Photo by Sudeep Joshi/Stevens Institute of Technology

Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Researchers have created an electricity-producing bionic mushroom by augmenting a white button mushroom from the grocery store with cyanobacteria and graphene.

"By integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nanoscale materials capable of collecting the current, we were able to better access the unique properties of both, augment them, and create an entirely new functional bionic system," Manu Mannoor, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, said in a news release.

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Cyanobacteria's electricity-production abilities are well-documented, but the microbes can't survive for long when integrated into synthetic materials. Lab tests proved a white button mushroom cap offered the proper nutrients, moisture, pH and temperature to preserve cyanobacteria cells.

"The mushrooms essentially serve as a suitable environmental substrate with advanced functionality of nourishing the energy producing cyanobacteria," said Sudeep Joshi, a postdoctoral fellow in Mannoor's lab. "We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms."

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Using a 3D printer, scientists decorated the mushroom cap with two inks, one composed of graphene nanoribbons and the other made of cyanobacteria cells. The deposition patterns allowed the bio-ink and electronic ink to intersect, allowing electron transfer.

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When scientists shined a light on the mushroom, the photons triggered the cyanobacteria's photosynthesis, generating a current that was picked up by the electronic ink. Experiments in the lab showed different ink deposition patterns yielded varying levels of energy efficiency.

Scientists shared their breakthrough in a new paper published Tuesday in the journal NanoLetters.

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"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 realize many other amazing designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defense, healthcare and many other fields."

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