26 Apr 2013

First Step Cockroach Cyborg, Next Step Iron Man

Ethanol, hydrogen, solar, wind, and.... cockroach?

That's right.  The coolest, creepiest source of green energy around is a biofuel cell made from a living insect.  A female false death's head cockroach, to be precise.

From: J. Am. Chem.Soc. 2012, 134, 14581460
The female roach has a large abdomen that's filled with blood, and her blood is filled with a naturally-occurring sugar called trehalose. This sugar powers the anode of the cell. Oxygen from the air powers the cathode. Because these fuels are renewable, power could be supplied indefinitely.

Scientists prepared the electrodes by coating them with enzymes to catalyze the electrical reaction. Then, the roach was sedated with carbon dioxide. Her legs were pinned with staples to prevent her from moving. Scientists inserted electrodes into the "blood sinus" in her belly without damaging any of her internal organs. The procedure was so gentle that when the experiment was over, the roach got up and walked away.

This living fuel cell generated about 0.2 volts. It would take 100 million cockroaches to power one 100-Watt lightbulb, but a lot of microdevices run on a lot less juice.  And roaches aren't the only species that are naturally electrifying - the experiment worked on shiitake mushrooms, too.

Military and intelligence applications are already being discussed (of course), but why stop there?

Image courtesy of Marvel
What if people could power their own pacemakers?  Or transmit real-time medical data to their doctors, without being chained to clunky monitoring equipment?  Or implant a tiny mp3 player, so they no longer lose it in the depths of their purse? Not that that's ever happened to me...

What toys would you run, if you were your own battery? Bonus points if you'd help save the world from the Chitauri!

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