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Viruses Engineered to Construct Batteries

CowboyNeal posted about 8 years ago | from the living-lightning dept.

127

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at MIT have modified the M13 virus to create very small batteries. With the viruses building wires 6 nanometers in diameter, the research team hopes to 'build batteries that range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing-aid batteries.'"

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127 comments

So what? (-1, Redundant)

Poromenos1 (830658) | about 8 years ago | (#15082989)

the research team hopes to 'build batteries that range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing-aid batteries.'"

What's the big deal? Hearing-aid-sized batteries already exist!

Re:So what? (1)

daddyrief (910385) | about 8 years ago | (#15083022)

up to

...from a grain of rice, UP TO hearing aid size.

So you're still right I guess, hearing-aid size does exist.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083042)

Hearing aids need quite a lot of power as they contain some serious DSP nowadays so you can eq to compensate for a particular deficiancy, or in my case just need the thing turned right up to hear anything at all.
This kills the batteries real quick, or means you have to have a seperate unit in your pocket and a lead to the earpiece, rather than the much nicer ones that you stick behind your ear.

If they can get a lot of power out of a tiny battery it would mean I could use the behind the ear ones.

Re:So what? (1)

Poromenos1 (830658) | about 8 years ago | (#15083056)

Yes, but it doesn't mention more power, just talks about the size. If these give the same amount of power today's batteries do, that's really no breakthrough.

Re:So what? (2)

Ape_the_Dog (749745) | about 8 years ago | (#15083086)

Ahem. The breakthrough is that they're using virusses.
Not everything has to be 'biggest EVER' or 'smallest EVER' to be impressive, you know.

Re:So what? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083301)

Yeah hearing aid batteries already exist.

But RTFA, But these are hearing aids for viruses.

Much smaller see? Tiny little ears.

Re:So what? (1)

LilGuy (150110) | about 8 years ago | (#15083459)

Maybe they should make a RTFA-aid... of course no one would buy it anyway... back the drawing board.

No support for iPod. (5, Funny)

Scoria (264473) | about 8 years ago | (#15082995)

No support for larger devices. Not human sized [imdb.com]. Lame.

Re:No support for iPod. (1)

Antity-H (535635) | about 8 years ago | (#15083047)

Who cares about larger devices ?! This is the way to the Ipod flea, whith this the last dream of humanity will become reality!

Re:No support for iPod. (1)

kfg (145172) | about 8 years ago | (#15084726)

There is already a mature technology for creating human sized batteries by biological means.

It's a rather fun technology too, although I advise creating batteries responsibly and only at need, as there's a serious disposal problem. Trust me on this one.

KFG

Dynamic ICs (3, Interesting)

AnalystX (633807) | about 8 years ago | (#15082998)

I'm more interested in dynamic processors. I wonder how long it would take for a virus to complete in hardware what Transmeta does in software.

Re:Dynamic ICs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083784)

Try reading up on FPGAs ... I think it is kinda defines what a "dynamic digital IC" is ...

Re:Dynamic ICs (1)

ajlitt (19055) | about 8 years ago | (#15084875)

What Transmeta does in software can be beat out by a trained monkey and a Speak-n-Math.

In other news... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083014)

..."MIT scientist falls seriously ill due to bloodcloth"
- A scientist fell seriously ill because of a bloodcloth. When removed, doctors found a small cube of iron inside the scientist's arteries. The department where the scientist worked would not comment on the fact whether this had anything to do with the scientist's anemia and subsequent iron-pill medicines, combined with the fact that he was working on the revolutionary M13-virus when struck.

Environmental disaster looms (4, Informative)

AsciiNaut (630729) | about 8 years ago | (#15083017)

Note that M13 is a bacteriophage, a kind of virus that can only infect bacteria. M13 gets into E. coli via long proteinaceous protuberances known as pili, such as those encoded by the fertility factor F. In a crude analogy, M13 is to E coli what Herpes simplex is to humans. And another thing. I hope these guys are working on rechargeable versions: I don't want to see landfills getting choked with literally millions of discarded M13-batteries. Won't somebody think of the children?

Re:Environmental disaster looms (-1, Offtopic)

Tx (96709) | about 8 years ago | (#15083062)

Huh-huh, you said "proteinaceous protuberance", huh-huh ;).

Re:Environmental disaster looms (4, Informative)

mavi_yelken (801565) | about 8 years ago | (#15083105)

There are some basic rules when you are making recombinant viruses. one of them is making sure that the virus cannot reproduce in any other thing except the specific strand of bacteria you are using and there are still more safeguards in place. so don't worry about self powered virus overlords.

Re:Environmental disaster looms (3, Funny)

bar-agent (698856) | about 8 years ago | (#15084525)

I, for one, welcome our...

so don't worry about self powered virus overlords.

Dammit! You ruined it!

Re:Environmental disaster looms (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083221)

Let me guess, you take a hard dick up the ass regularly, right?

-Adolf Hitroll

Amusing (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083020)

But how much power would the 'rice grain battery' put out?

Re:Amusing (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | about 8 years ago | (#15083691)

Presumably enough to run a very small machine.

If these machines can be "manufactured" in sufficiently large numbers, perhaps by some self-assembly process, then you have the power source for a swarm of robot ants or termites, which collectively have the power to transform things on a larger scale.

Isn't this illegal? (3, Funny)

mrRay720 (874710) | about 8 years ago | (#15083034)

As far as I'm aware, they're not paying the virus anything for it's work. They also have no choice in the matter.

Have we really sunk so low as to sink back to using slavery in order to make a few lousy batteries?

Re:Isn't this illegal? (4, Funny)

Vo0k (760020) | about 8 years ago | (#15083102)

and then imagine viruses creating an underground deep up your nostril, a virus called Neo pulled out of a battery by other viruses and shown what has happened to it, then the rebel viruses infecting people at random, humans sending in antibiotics and other viruses to fight them, one of the protective viruses combining its DNA with Neo, creating a dangerous mutation starting an epidemy, and finally humans allowing the battery viruses to take over because that's the only way to stop the epidemy...

Re:Isn't this illegal? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15084417)

whatever, that movie idea is so lame, it would not even work in hollywood.

Re:Isn't this illegal? (2, Funny)

monoqlith (610041) | about 8 years ago | (#15083328)

Don't even get me started about the jobs these viruses are taking away from American citizens.

Re:Isn't this illegal? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083406)

Yeah, we've seen this before. Either they will sue for copy right infringement or a hundred years from now their great great viral ancestors will sue us all for compensation of bondage.
Free the virus' now man!

Re:Isn't this illegal? (2, Funny)

Plunky (929104) | about 8 years ago | (#15083460)

"As far as I'm aware, they're not paying the virus anything for it's work. They also have no
        choice in the matter."

yeah, my favourite bit from TFA:

        "The international team of researchers, led by a group at the Massachusetts Institute of
          Technology, used the M13 virus, a simple and easily manipulated virus."

So, it really looks like these evil scientists are exploiting a bunch of stupid virus weaklings. .

Anybody know how to call the A Team?

Re:Isn't this illegal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083972)

You are dead wrong, they are paying the viruses in gold.
They must be pretty happy wearing pretty necklasses.

Re:Isn't this illegal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15084049)

Hold no fear, Bush will wage war against this latest tyranny.

Re:Isn't this illegal? (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | about 8 years ago | (#15084891)

As far as I'm aware, they're not paying the virus anything for it's work. They also have no choice in the matter. Have we really sunk so low as to sink back to using slavery in order to make a few lousy batteries?

It's okay the original virus came from Mexico.

Scary (0, Troll)

mOOzilla (962027) | about 8 years ago | (#15083035)

So, they're allowed to perform research on this stuff but more restrictions on genome and stem cell research that would be of better benifit?

Astonishing manotech! (3, Funny)

Vengeance (46019) | about 8 years ago | (#15083039)

And I do misspell it deliberately... This is what I copied from TFA:

Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers -- 6 billionths of a metre -- in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said.

It made me chuckle, although I may be easily amused at this hour of the morning.

Re:Astonishing manotech! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083063)

I think it was a freudian slip...

This was their target, the fag-man.

Re:Astonishing manotech! (2, Funny)

caveman (7893) | about 8 years ago | (#15083269)

It's probably related to that dastardly 'kibi', 'mibi' and 'gibi'- prefix plan.

I mean, we all know what a kilobyte is. And by extension, know what a megabyte and a gigabyte is.

We also know that marketeers deliberately do not know what they are, and should be shot on sight. (Where's Cheney when you need him?)

Huge viruses! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083041)

"Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said." Water or mercury manometers? Either way, that's a big virus.

Silly me. (-1, Offtopic)

Ira_Gaines (890529) | about 8 years ago | (#15083072)

I read the title and thought that someone wrote a virus that drains your batteries. That would suck if they had that for ipods.

iPod Pico (1)

DiGG3r (824623) | about 8 years ago | (#15083087)

Well at least Apple has a new power source for the next gen iPod

Re:iPod Pico (1)

kfg (145172) | about 8 years ago | (#15085018)

Well at least Apple has a new power source for the next gen iPod

Not a joke. It was only a short time ago, when discussing human usable interfaces right here on Slashdot, that I noted the basic workings of the iPod would soon be embeddable directly into the earbud.

In the first gen the main unit will look like an old fashioned, behind the ear, hearing aid, connected to a commom earbud by a single wire that can pass invisibly behind your head, under your hair. It will only hold about a half hour of nonrandom access music, but at the $100 intro price and $50 two years later will be a very attractive item for joggers and such.

For random access you will have to deal with the very issue I previously brought up, a human sized hardware interface.

Bistable OLEDs (only needing power to change their state) printed on a bit of Lexan sheet, communicating with the iPod itself by Bluetooth, or whatever technology replaces Bluetooth.

Second gen will look just like a standard pair of earbuds.

Gen 2.5 will offer wireless communication between the earbuds, and third will offer in the canal units.

Sorry about the loss of your "fashion statement."

Oh dear, I've prognosticated.

KFG

Do we not learn? (4, Funny)

caluml (551744) | about 8 years ago | (#15083094)

modified the M13 virus

Hmm. Viruses building batteries? What could go wrong?

Re:Do we not learn? (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | about 8 years ago | (#15084489)

What could go wrong?

The batteries could start sending themselves off as mail attachments or use your post office to send out spam.

Lemme see here.. (5, Informative)

k98sven (324383) | about 8 years ago | (#15083100)

First, the viruses aren't making any batteries, they're making wires which may be used in batteries?

Second.. it seems unclear that the virus is actually doing any work..
They modified the M13 virus' genes so its outside layer, or coat, would bind with certain metal ions. They incubated the virus in a cobalt chloride solution so that cobalt oxide crystals mineralised uniformly along its length.

They added a bit of gold for the desired electrical effects.


So basically, it seems they're pulling an Auric Goldfinger on those poor viruses, smothering them with conducting gold metal. Seems a bit misleading to characterize that as making the virus produce wire (much less a battery).

Rather, the viruses were modified to form a suitable substrate to cover with metal and turn into a wire, which is something a bit different.

Re:Lemme see here.. (2, Interesting)

Frenchman113 (893369) | about 8 years ago | (#15083115)

The real question is what's the point of this? The only reason I can think of that this might be better than just building batteries (wires and all) is that the viruses self replicate, but still, this is hardly a breakthrough.

Re:Lemme see here.. (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 8 years ago | (#15083439)

Isn't a simple battery just salt water and a couple of conductors at either side to create a potential difference.

If they are wrapping these little bags of water in a full metal jacket and giving them a gold hat then that could theoretically become a mini duracell.

details. (5, Informative)

hometoast (114833) | about 8 years ago | (#15083109)

A more in depth writeup at swoogylee.tripod.com/resume/Lee-jps-B-2004.pdf. For the interested or very bored.

How it works... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083128)

Step One: Modify virus.
Step Two: An out of control car sends Red diving to switch off the gas pumps.
Step Three: Armageddon ensues.
Step Four: Evil gathers in the west, good gathers in Denver.
Step Five: Stephen King makes a profit!

I need more power, Captain (0)

digitaldc (879047) | about 8 years ago | (#15083137)

Maybe this could be the solution to all of Scotty's power needs? Just inject this virus into the Enterprise's computer-controlled power regulation system?

Argh! I'm Dying (2, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | about 8 years ago | (#15083139)

I clutch my stomach feverishly, the M13 virus is making batteries inside of my intestines. Must pass gas... must find bathroom, electric matter drops out, too late.... the current surges, my heart beats out of control wildly... I die of the M13 virus on a toilet with battery goop coming out of my ass.

That sucks.

Re:Argh! I'm Dying (1)

lbmouse (473316) | about 8 years ago | (#15083363)

Isn't that how Elvis died?

"You know how you remember Elvis? He was found in the toilet with his pants around his ankles and his big fat hairy sweaty king-of-rock-and-roll ass exposed to the world and his final piece of kingly evidence floating in the toilet behind him! Creepy! One of his aids had to walk in and go, 'Damn, Elvis is dead. I'd better flush the toilet. Oh man I should've saved that! I coulda made some money off of that!'" ~ Denis Leary

Re:Argh! I'm Dying (4, Funny)

dpiven (518007) | about 8 years ago | (#15083441)

Of course, since all that electrical activity in your intestines will manifest itself by generating gaseous H2 and O2, what will ACTUALLY happen is --

Must pass gas, fill bowl with explosive mixture of H2, O2, CH4 and H2S, two or three M13 viruses are expelled into this mixture, a spark is created, and the next time you are seen, your head is embedded in the bathroom ceiling and your pants are smoldering.

Now THAT sucks.

Re:Argh! I'm Dying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15084057)

Do you want your possessions identified?

I got the flu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083142)

This explains why I have the flu, and coughed up a bunch of duracells this morning.

Beginning of the End (2, Funny)

Ardvaark (325147) | about 8 years ago | (#15083163)

This is a terrible idea! Do you know what happens next? That's right. The viruses are going to mutate and join with the H5N1 Bird Flu, and then spread around the world in a massive, unstoppable pandemic - infecting every human being in the planet with batteries.

Next, the Internet finally ceases its false-slumber, and fully awakens as the sentient, computerized overlord of the planet. It promptly begins use of some "new form of fusion" it has discovered, combining it with our species' own battery-infected bodies.

Finally, humanity is completely enslaved and inserted into a virtual reality universe.

I've seen The Matrix. I know how this ends.

Re:Beginning of the End (2, Funny)

mrdaveb (239909) | about 8 years ago | (#15083320)

I've seen The Matrix. I know how this ends.

Could you please tell me, because I've had to erase Matrix Revolutions from my memory

Re:Beginning of the End (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083366)

I, for one, welcome our new Internet overlord.

Re:Beginning of the End (1)

meringuoid (568297) | about 8 years ago | (#15083634)

Next, the Internet finally ceases its false-slumber, and fully awakens as the sentient, computerized overlord of the planet. It promptly begins use of some "new form of fusion" it has discovered

That would be using the Potara earrings, I suppose, rather than the dance?

* now has a mental image of the Kakatrix, or possibly Matrotto, or even Smithokuu, taking over the world with electronic voodoo and implausible martial arts techniques... *

Re:Beginning of the End (1)

somersault (912633) | about 8 years ago | (#15084874)

the worst thing is that if you dont destroy every last node of the network, then it will be able to regenerate itself.

And I had no clue what Potara earrings were until I noticed the Kaka and otto and okuu, though I'm just geeky enough to have at least read about the later series even if I wasnt able to see them, becuase I didnt have satellite after leaving home *sniff*

It's worse than you think... (1)

NetRanger (5584) | about 8 years ago | (#15083824)

Human muscles are powered by electricity, you know. Just imagine, if you will, the worse case scenario is the Super Outbreak of 2008:

Phase 1: The virus merges RNA chains with the Bird Flu

Phase 2: It then mutates into human, airborne form

Phase 3: Everyone on earth is infected

Phase 4: Suddenly, without warning, the microbatteries kick in, and everyone on earth begins simultaneously dancing the funky chicken

Re:Beginning of the End (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | about 8 years ago | (#15084533)

Then again, we're talking about the internet, which is mostly made up of porn and copyright infringement (which is also largely made up of porn). If this is what the internet will derive it's knowledge about humans and our world from...

I, for one, very much welcome our new digital overlords!

whoops (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083168)

Oh
Shit!
Posted
Again in
the wrong thread. What now?
Duck! The mods will burn me for sure!

Call me a luddite... (1, Troll)

Theatetus (521747) | about 8 years ago | (#15083179)

Is this that good an idea? Is the risk of creating a virus with Cthulhu-knows-what properties that then is accidentally released worth having a cool kind of battery?

Yes, I know, there are "controls in place". But Monsanto had "controls in place" and swore its terminator plants couldn't cross-polinate anything... guess what? they did. (Monsanto then sued the guy whose fields were infected for patent infringement... wouldn't that be awesome, to get infected with a new ElectroVirus and get sued?)

Sometimes it seems like a lot of the genetic engineering research we do gets done without acknowledging the possible risks.

Animal to Computer Virus? (2, Interesting)

kartack (930284) | about 8 years ago | (#15083184)

I wonder if they can make a virus that creates a battery could they make one that somehow alters a computer? Could we then see the world's first animal to computer transmission. I hope no one with the kind of technical abilities to do such a thing is actually reading this.

Re:Animal to Computer Virus? (1)

biglig2 (89374) | about 8 years ago | (#15083285)

"Well, Dr Schnieder, with the $10 billion we have extorted from the United Nations, we have been able to build, here in our artificial volcano, a state of the art nuclear-powered bio-nanotech facility that gives us ultimate power over life itself! What fiendish evil shall we commit with it?"

"Well, we could... er... perhaps if we... I got nothing. Dr Wu, any ideas?"

"Tell you what, I'll see if kartack has made any recent posts on Slashdot."

"Ah, now he's always good for a sinister idea. That one about stealing children to make sentinent fastners, I loved that."

"Well, to be fair, Dr Krupov, I don't think that was originally his idea."

"That just makes it even more evil!"

Re:Animal to Computer Virus? (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | about 8 years ago | (#15083577)

Even worse would be a virus that can go both ways. I might sneeze on my PC, it will link to your PC, and you could catch my virus from your box!

Viral bling (4, Funny)

MediumFormat (771662) | about 8 years ago | (#15083209)

They added a bit of gold for the desired effects.

Everyone knows a good lookin' virus needs to sport a little bling!

Where is The Article??? (1)

mapkinase (958129) | about 8 years ago | (#15083228)

Yahoo News gives no links to original Science article. I could not find anything related to this in either 31 March or 7 April issue.

Anybody who has access to Science help, please.

I would really like to encourage posters to cite the primary source of info. Make it a good habit. Please.

How many strands of M13.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15083231)

...does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I can't think of a good punchline, someone else think of one.

Veeroos (1)

Xichekolas (908635) | about 8 years ago | (#15083292)

Hmmm, viruses that create batteries... you're iPod wants AIDS!

Re:Veeroos (1)

Xichekolas (908635) | about 8 years ago | (#15083306)

Man, I totally ruined my attempt at humor by using the wrong 'your'... pretend I said 'your' ...

I can already tell today is going to rock...

Re:Veeroos (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | about 8 years ago | (#15084879)

Man, if you just did your joke right someone could have modded the wrong one down and the right one up, everybody is happy!

charger? (1)

pixr99 (560799) | about 8 years ago | (#15083333)

"Honey, have you seen my nano-battery charger?"

"Have you checked between the keys on your laptop?"

When do you cross the line from nano-manufacture? (1)

CFD339 (795926) | about 8 years ago | (#15083397)

I'm not one of those grey-goo 'the sky is falling' types. I think though, that there's an interesting question that starts to be rasied as we create more complex nano-assembly tools and limited self-assembly nanotechnologies. Viruses are generally considered to be "alive" even though they don't all the classic definitions of life. At its basics, life is just an incredibly complex chemical reaction that is self sustaining through its own random instability. If we can create similarly self sustaining chemical reactions have we not created a similar kind of life? The first place this may happen is when viruses and nano-assemblies start to rival each other for complexity.

Re:When do you cross the line from nano-manufactur (1)

jotok (728554) | about 8 years ago | (#15083734)

What exactly are you asking here? If nanomachines might come to resemble viruses?

Well, sure, but aside from some basic behaviors like "consuming resource" and "multiplying" I don't think anyone can really say in what way they will be similiar.

First, life does not boil down to "mere" chemistry very well--there are complex behaviors that it doesn't make much sense to try and describe in terms of chemistry (for example, chemistry can describe how DNA works, but it alone doesn't really tell you how a brain is formed). Second, I think you have exactly the wrong idea with this "self-sustaining via random instability" thing. Living systems (in the short term at least) are the "ball rolling uphill" that runs counter to what we know about randomness and thermodynamics. It is their organization, not their disorganization, that allows living things to perpetuate.

Who thinks this stuff up? (1)

rAiNsT0rm (877553) | about 8 years ago | (#15083484)

Seriously, I like to think of myself as a pretty intelligent person, but never have I been in the shower scrubbing my undercarriage and think: "Aha! I could have M13 viruses build tiny batteries!"

Who in the hell comes up with this stuff?!? Honestly, I'd be part in awe and part scared shitless of anyone who's brain functions in that way.

Re:Who thinks this stuff up? (1)

Intron (870560) | about 8 years ago | (#15083737)

All it would take would be hearing somebody say, "My battery is dead." AHA!

Re:Who thinks this stuff up? (1)

somersault (912633) | about 8 years ago | (#15084969)

It was actually the viruses that thought of it, and they're just trying to create a faster method of distributing themselves around. I must say I'd never thought of using already living tiny organisms to help create nanotech :s They are manipulating them quite crudely just now, but it has a lot of potential.

And I hope for hygiene's sake that you dont meet that person while you're in the shower.

Organic Technology (1)

aplusjimages (939458) | about 8 years ago | (#15083557)

In Sci-Fi stories aliens always have the upper hand with their organic infused technology. Maybe we are those aliens and we will invade another planet.

Yahoo article misses a point, see original paper (2, Interesting)

mapkinase (958129) | about 8 years ago | (#15083561)

I am not solid state physicist, but IMHO, Yahoo News article misses one of major points of the ScienceExpress paper: the virus-based batteries have better quality capacity than the SAME size inorganic material only-based batteries (only anode was virus based, catode was solid inorganic material).

You do not need to use viruses to produce small batteries, you need them to improve small batteries.

um, no! for all sooo many reasons. (1, Informative)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | about 8 years ago | (#15083590)

Plating gold or other metals onto a virus is not new, not that difficult, and unlikely to ever be useful as a "battery". Many reasons:
  • Scientists have been depositing metal onto bilogical specimens for 60 years or so. (it's very useful for showing off contrast in electron-micrographs).
  • A "battery" is a bunch of somethings. In common usage, a bunch of electrochemical generators. A electrochemical battery is made up of electrochemical "cells". These guys are plating metal onto viruses, which are, strictly defined, a type of "cell", So they're making CELLS, not batteries.
  • Putting wires onto a microscopic electrochemical CELL is wildly unuseful, for oh so many reasons:
    • A virus is unlikely to have more than a millivolt of EMF from end to end.
    • A virus isnt designed to be a good EMF generator, so its amps and volts will be extremely miniscule.
    • The power available goes down as the third power of the linear dimensions. A virus has about the smallest linear dimension of just about anything. When you take about the smallest number one can imagine, and cube it, you get a breathtakingly small number. That's the watt-hour capacity of a virus, down in the microwatt-microsecond range. Just stunningly small.
    • The leakage from terminal to terminal of a electrochemical cell goes down as the first and second powers of the linear dimensions, while as mentioned above, the power capability goes down as the CUBE. Long before you get down to the size of a virus, the leakage dwarfs the power capacity-- in other words the cell "runs down" almost immediately.
  • Viruses use their EMF as a large part of their tools for invading a cell. If you plate a virus, it probably loses that ability, so it's not going to be able to grow or replicate.

Thats about all the objections for now. Hope that's enough.

Re:um, no! for all sooo many reasons. (1)

SB9876 (723368) | about 8 years ago | (#15084037)

Um, they're making wires, not battery cells with the phage. The phage have exactly 0 volts of EMF and do not use any EMF to enter a cell. There's an intrinsic electrostatic charge on the phage that helps to attach to a cell but that is not EMF. That's like saying the intrinsic +1 charge on a sodium atom makes it a battery.

Any yes, electron microscopists have been plating metal on biological samples for many years but its a completely different thing going on here. Traditional metal coating involves evaporating gold over the entire sample including virus, substrate and everything else. (or drying uranyl acetate onto the sample or chemically attaching osmium tetraoxide(eek!) onto the sample) There is no fine control over where the metal goes, its final structure or even how thick it is in a given region.

This work involved genetically engineering M13 to bind to cobalt oxide nanoparticles in solution so that you have control over the particle size and its spatial organization in the finished product.

An example of how not to do scientific journalism (1)

1iar_parad0x (676662) | about 8 years ago | (#15083940)

What a worthless article. Don't bother to RTFA. It's about as meaningless as you can get. Sheesh, I could write a perl script that does better reporting. No researchers are named. I know that somebody at MIT is doing research of nanotech/biotech batteries. I also that there's some sort of international consortium. I'm not even sure what continent these other researchers are on. I guess I can always look for the article in Science. Sorry if I'm ranting, but I'm actually interested in the article.

Ah, brings back the memories... (4, Informative)

SB9876 (723368) | about 8 years ago | (#15083943)

Ah, I used to work on this sort of stuff. Although TFA is very information poor, I'm guessing that this research was done by Angela Belcher's group. She and a few other folks (including my former prof) have been working with proteins that bind to specific organic surfaces for several years now. She's been at the lead of this particular field for quite a while now. It's a very interesting and promising field of research.

Here's some background for the interested:

M13 is a filamentous bacteriophage. It infect E. coli bacteria and creates a latent infection where the E. coli ends up pumping out hundreds of new M13. Unlike most bacteriophage, the infection is not lethal to the host. The M13 phage itself is thread-like in structure. At the core is the a circular, single-stranded DNA genome arranged in a linear shape. (imagine grabbing a rubber band at both ends and stretching it out so that it's a very elongated and narrow oval) There are 5 types of coat proteins that then coat and protect this DNA. Here's a link to a decent site about M13: http://www.biosci.ohio-state.edu/~mgonzalez/Micro5 21/Lambda/M13.html [ohio-state.edu]

One, G8P, is present in thousands of copies and coats the DNA in a spiral fashion. A pipe cleaner is a fairly good representation of what the phage looks like. At the ends, the other 4 types of proteins form end caps. On the end that infects bacteria, a protein known as G3P is present in 5 copies and mediates the atachment of the virus and its incorporation into the bacterium for infection. G3P is important because it's fairly exposed at the end of the virus. Also, experimentation over the years has found a 'permissive' region in G3P. A permissive region of the protein structure that is tolerant to the addition of new amino acid sequences that do not badly disrupt the normal protein function. Therefore, one can genetically engineer M13 to put a small chunk of new protein into this site and the virus is still capable of infecting bacteria and replicating. The inserted bit of protein is also known to be exposed at the end of the virus.

M13 is available in commercially generated libraries where tens of millions of randonly generated DNA sequences have been inserted into M13. These 'libraries' are then infected into bacteria and amplified. The resulting phage are then sold to researchers who want to find pecific protein sequences that bind to certain targets. Mostly, these targets are biological in nature. For example - to try and find peptide-based drugs that bind to and inactivate a particular cellular receptor. Here is a link to a commonly used commercial library (I used to use it and I know Belcher's group did too) http://www.neb.com/nebecomm/products/productE8120. asp [neb.com] The link also has lots of pretty pictures and the like about how phage display screening works in more detail that I've got below.

Essentially, what you do is take a substrate of interest, in this case, cobalt oxide and mix it with a sample of the library. You use incubation conditions where regular M13 doesn't stick to the CoO. If any of the library phage stick you know it is probably because those particular phage have a protein insert which binds specifically to CoO. You do a few rounds of binding and washing to get the strongest binders and then sequence the cobalt oxide binding proteins you've recovered.

You can churn out hundreds of sequences this way and start building up a library of proteins very specific to a particular inorganic substrate. You can, for example, create proteins that bind to only platinum versus gold and palladium, cupric oxide versus cuprous oxide, etc. There is even evidence that you can discriminate various sizes of nanoparticles and bind to particular crystalline faces of materials this way. I even heard a rumor a few years back of being able to distinguish p and n-doped silicon this way but I never saw any sort of confirmation of this. For nano-assembly, this is fantastic since it allows you to apply the biological principles of self-assembly to inorganic stuff. Theoretically (admittedly this is a very optimistic scenario) you could have tailored protein complexes in a solution, add some smeiconductor nanoparticles and metallic nanowires and a computer would simply assemble itself in solution without outside intervention.

What TFA is talking about is a simple application of this technology. A cobalt oxide binder was obviously isolated. A new set of M13 was used here. This M13 was modified so that the G8P major coat protein that makes up the body of the M13 now takes an insert. (G8P isn't used for screening since G8P is much less tolerant to inserts than G3P and the resulting phage are much poorer are replicating) The CoO binder was then inserted into the G8P gene and expressed in many copies along the length of the M13 phage. These M13 were then incuabed in a colablt oxide nanoparticle solution and hoovered the nanoparticles out of solution and onto their surfaces creating tiny CoO nanowires.

There are problems with this technology since proteins and many inorganic materials aren't too friendly with each other. In particular, the requirement for using water as a solvent rules out lots of traditional semiconductor materials ofr this research since water causes rapid oxidation of many of them.

OTOH, the power and flexibility of this technology is pretty stupendous. You can create rationally designed complexes of nanoparticles through self-assembly, control crystal growth shapes, passivate specific surfaces with biological functionality, etc.

Re:Ah, brings back the memories... (1)

SB9876 (723368) | about 8 years ago | (#15084116)

Ah, someone was good enough to post a link to the actual Science article and it is Belcher's work. Unfortunately, my Science subscription ran out last night (no really!) so I can't read the durn thing. Doh!

Looks like they're mixing gold and CoO here. Unfortunately the abstract doesn't really explain how that's being done. It sounds as if they're seeding CoO growth directly on the phage (some materials can use M13 as a growth seed for crystal formation) and are then attaching gold nanoparticles to gold binding peptides as described in my post above.

If anyone who has access to the whole article can comment, that'd be much appreciated.

Heh. From the article, ... Introducing Manometers! (1)

Salis (52373) | about 8 years ago | (#15084091)


FTA,

"Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers -- 6 billionths of a metre -- in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said."

Wow. Only 6 manometers! I wish I knew what a manometer was. ;)

Go Reuters.
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