Researchers created the ‘bionic mushroom’ by covering its surface with cyanobacteria; the mushroom’s surface allowed it to grow and stay alive. An electrode network and cyanobacteria 3D printed on a mushroom to produce electricity. (Photo via American Chemical Society)


When it comes to finding environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels, scientists are starting to think outside the box. In a new study, researchers turned to an unlikely source to generate electricity: mushrooms. No, it’s not some weird biochemically engineered shroom; just a regular one you’d find at your local grocery store.


According to their report published in the ACS journal Nano Letter, researchers turned a regular mushroom into an electricity generator by covering it with bacteria capable of generating electricity and strands of graphene to collect the current. They started by 3D printing an electronic ink containing graphene nanoribbons onto the cap of an actual mushroom. They then printed a bio-ink with cyanobacteria on the cap that then intersected with the electronic ink at different points. The electrons could then transfer through the outer membranes of the bacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons.


Shining a light on the mushroom activated cyanobacterial photosynthesis. This allowed the cells to harvest the glow and generate a small current of electricity of roughly 65 nanoAmps. Because the fungi provide the bacteria with a viable surface and the right nutrients, the bacteria can grow and stay alive.


"In this case, our system – this bionic mushroom – produces electricity," said Professor Manu Mannoor, an engineer at Stevens Institute of Technology who led the research. "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."


The results are promising, but the current still isn’t strong enough to power an electronic device on its own. Researchers believe a group of the bionic mushrooms could create enough energy to light up an LED. They also think the 3D printing process could prove useful to organize other bacterial species in a complex arrangement to perform other functions. The team is now working on ways for the mushrooms to create higher currents.


This isn’t the first time cyanobacteria has been put to the test, but until now it’s been difficult to keep them alive in artificial conditions. Researchers believe if they create a hybrid system that allows the mushrooms and the bacteria to combine, they’ll solve this issue. This study is only a small part of a wider effort to understand how biological process can be put to good use.


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