Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Battery technology and life forms

Here's an interesting little piece in the Economist all about a biological battery based on the biology of electric eels and other electricity-producing animals:
David LaVan of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland and his colleagues wanted to study the operation of living cell membranes and their proteins. They began by experimenting on artificial “protocells”. These, like real cells, were surrounded by membranes made of fatty molecules. Proteins “floating” in the membranes would let only certain ions pass. Using this system, the researchers realised that they might be able to copy the eel’s electricity-generation mechanism.
Earlier this year, there was a report in Chemistry World about using viruses to create electrodes:
Angela Belcher and colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, however, have found that electrodes based on viruses are a feasible alternative. They have manipulated the genes of the simple 'M13' virus so that it is equipped with certain short polymers known as peptides. On one end of the virus the peptides can bind with carbon nanotubes, while on the rest of the virus the peptides can help instigate the growth of amorphous iron phosphate (a-FePO4). Although a-FePO4 is not usually a good conductor, the nanotubes work together to enhance conductivity across the entire virus.
Not your tommyknocker, but interesting.

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