Mushrooms can now generate electricity

Katie Ramirez
November 10, 2018

Even more common than the mushrooms are the cyanobacteria that can thrive on the mushrooms.

Stevens Institute of Technology researchers Manu Mannoor, Sudeep Joshi and Ellexis Cook set out to engineer an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteria.

Scientists saw that cyanobacteria produced 65 nanoAmps through photosynthesis when they shined a light on the bionic mushroom. Now, a team of U.S. researchers say they've found a way to make environmentally friendly energy using bionic mushrooms covered in bacteria. About 2.6 billion years ago, cyanobacteria changed the state of the atmosphere forever by pumping oxygen, gradually transforming the planet from a hellish wasteland into a sprawling oasis of life.

Cyanobacteria are common on land and in the oceans, and scientists are intrigued by their ability to turn light into energy via photosynthesis. The graphene nanoribbons acted like nano-probes that access the bio-electrons from the cyanobacterial cells.

Scientists have created a "bionic mushroom" that can produce electricity - and this powerful fungi could be used to juice up devices and other equipment in the future.

The researchers were able to generate electricity by attaching energy-producing cyanobacteria on the button mushroom using 3D printing. Mannoor and postdoctoral fellow Sudeep Joshi came up with the idea of using mushrooms because they naturally host a complex microbiota and could potentially provide the nutrients, moisture, pH and temperature necessary for the cyanobacteria to survive and produce electricity.

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During the experiment, Mannoor and colleagues found that cyanobacterial cells lasted several days on the cap of a white button mushroom.

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

To make their bionic mushroom a reality, the researchers first 3D-printed an electronic ink containing graphene nanoribbons onto the cap of a living mushroom in a branched pattern. They then printed a bio-ink containing the cyanobacteria onto the mushroom's cap in a spiral pattern intersecting with the electronic ink at multiple points. This way, electrons traveled through the outer membranes of the microbes to the conductive network.

"As I mentioned, bacteria possess many other properties beside the electricity production", Mannoor said.

"These are the next steps, to optimise the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED", he said.

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