‘Bugs can be tweaked into powerhouses’

January 9th, 2012 - 12:44 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 8 (IANS) Insects can be tweaked to produce biofuels to power sensors and recording devices — or just to control the bug.The finding is yet another in a growing list that could bring the creation of insect cyborgs out of science fiction and into reality. In this case, the power supply doesn’t rely on movement, light or batteries, just normal feeding.

“It is virtually impossible to start from scratch and make something that works like an insect,” said Daniel Scherson, chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve University and senior study author.

“Using an insect is likely to prove far easier. For that, you need electrical energy to power sensors or to excite the neurons to make the insect do as you want, by generating enough power out of the insect itself,” Scherson said.

“An insect equipped with a sensor could measure the amount of noxious gas in a room, broadcast the finding, shut down and recharge for an hour, then take a new measurement and broadcast again,” he added.

Scherson teamed with Roy E. Ritzmann and Irene Lee, both professors, graduate student Michelle Rasmussen and research assistant Alan J. Pollack to develop an implantable biofuel cell to provide usable power.

The key to converting the chemical energy is using enzymes. After testing the system electrodes were inserted in the abdomen of a female cockroach. The researchers found they suffered no long-term damage, which bodes well for long-term use.

They measured the output of the fuel cell, which reached a maximum of nearly 100 microwatts per square centimetre at 0.2 volts. The study was five years in the making. Progress stalled for nearly a year due to difficulties with trehalase - the first enzyme used in the series.

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