Batteries built by viruses

Researchers have genetically engineered biological viruses to form the anode and cathode of a battery. MIT researcher Angela Belcher and her colleagues manipulated the genes of a harmless virus so that the bug coats itself in tiny iron phosphate particles and connects to highly-conductive carbon nanotubes. From Science News:
Ions and electrons can move through smaller particles more quickly. But fabricating nano-sized particles of iron phosphate is a difficult and expensive process, the researchers say.

So Belcher’s team let the virus do the work. By manipulating a gene of the M13 virus to make the viruses coat themselves in iron phosphate, the researchers created very small iron phosphate particles.

“We’re using a biological template that’s already on the nanoscale,” Belcher says.

Tweaking a second gene made one end of the virus bind to carbon nanotubes, which conduct energy well. The resulting network of iron phosphate-coated viruses and carbon nanotubes formed a highly conductive cathode, one that ions and electrons could move through quickly.
"Viruses could power devices"


  1. Good thing I’m reading up on my Zombie survival guide for when this thing mutates and infects the electrical impulses in our brain.

  2. 9th grade me was beyond excited when issue #0 of Ironman described Tony Stark’s suit being built by this very same biological process. Microscopic layers of battery and armor were layed down by bacteria into an interlocking flexible honeycomb. That was in the early 90s. When did science start think of assembling materials this way?

  3. Plus, besides anodes and cathodes, they can make tiny little corn (that won’t cut you if you don’t chew it enough)!

  4. Nice. If a virus can make a battery, think of the other things a virus can be taught to do, like work at the helpdesk for the phone company.

  5. As I said on my blog when I posted this the other night: “This is how teh Zombie Plague starts.”

  6. I, for one, worship our new all powerful mutant virus overlords.
    You just know it will be the intellectual property rights protecting genetic engineering that will lead to the terrible mutant scourge on the earth.

  7. Using phages to make batteries is pretty cool, but I really wish we’d start using them for the more mundane task of treating some common illnesses.

    It is weird to think that if I have an antibiotic resistant form of staph that I’d have to travel to Russia of all places to keep them from chopping my leg off.

  8. If you could get “gold from snot?” it would give a whole new meaning too someone picking their nose. if asked if they were “digging for gold?” they could say yeah!

  9. Phage therapy
    Yeah, Russia.

    The Soviets were the only ones to pursue the technology after it was supplanted by antibiotics. Of course, the rest of the world has started taking notice, but it will be years before it’s approved for human use outside of Russia.

  10. @21 Interesting link on Phage therapy. Its a shame its not being approved around the world as it could be used to treat the increasing problem of MRSA.

  11. My wife is currently editing a huge book on nano-tech. People simply do not realise the extent of development, the inventions already in the pipeline, the products on there way to market, and the medical/healing implications. I have sat opposite her while she has been editing and watched and heard some of the amazing things that are under and on the way…

    Prepare to be totally amazed in the coming 5 years or so. I am just in awe regarding the things that I have learned in the past few weeks.

  12. mmph, thanks Kieran, I remember vaguely reading about it, very interesting to know more. Lots of therapies out there that don’t get a fair hearing due to cultural stupidity. Frinstance: heard of fecal transplant to beat c.difficile?

  13. HotPepperMan, for about 20 years people have been saying that nanotech will be huge and amazing “5 years from now”. This has caused me to become a little more cynical and skeptical than maybe I should be. Like any techie, I agree that the possibilities sound really cool, and I can’t wait for nano inventions to be a part of my life. I just no longer believe it when people say that’ll be “in just a few years” (which is not to say you’re wrong. Maybe you’re right. I hope you’re right. But I’m not holding my breath).

  14. Dear (br) HotPepperMan(/br),

    This is Lawrence here. apparently Im doing a assignment on bug built batteries and I would like to ask you for some questions on the topic. Would you mind to give me your hotmail address ? I really need someone to give me some comments too.

    Lawrence [e-mail redacted]

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