Scientists Build Electricity Producing Viruses

If current research proves fruitful, the homes and cities of the future may be powered by viruses. Berkeley Lab scientists have genetically engineered the M13 virus to output more power. 

What's the Latest Development?


Scientists at the Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab have genetically engineered a virus known as M13 to emit electricity when pressure is applied to it. "M13 is a natural power source, but researchers enhanced its output by genetically engineering the virus, adding some negatively-charged amino acids to one end of its tough outer shell." Scientists organized the viruses onto squares of film measuring about one square centimeter and then sandwiched the film between two gold-plated electrodes. By connecting wires to the electrodes, scientists were able to power a small liquid-crystal display screen. 

What's the Big Idea?

Scientists were able to produce six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential, which is about a quarter of the voltage of a triple-A battery and was enough to flash the number '1' on the display screen. The 'piezoelectric effect' explains the behavior of viruses that, when squeezed, produce electricity. "Any kind of motion can power up M13, so you could conceivably power your house by jumping up and down on a virus-coated floor, or power your iPod by jiggling it in your pocket." Or imagine painting your laptop keyboard with the film so that every time you type, your battery powers up.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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