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A team of researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology, Manu Mannoor, Sudeep Joshi and Ellexis Cook have engineered an artificial symbiosis between button mushrooms and cyanobacteriato produce electricity.

The scientists used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom.

The fungus provided the ideal environment to allow the cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of power.

The authors say their fossil-free “bionic mushroom” could have great potential.

As researchers the world over search for alternative energy sources, there has been a sharp rise in interest in cyanobacteria, said a BBC report. These organisms, widely found in the oceans and on land, are being investigated for their abilities to turn sunlight into electrical current.

One big problem is that they do not survive long enough on artificial surfaces to be able to deliver on their power potential.That’s where the humble button mushroom comes in.The fungi provide the bacteria with viable surface on which to grow as well as nutrients to stay alive.

This fertile fungus is already home to many other forms of bacterial life, providing an attractive array of nutrients, moisture and temperature. The researchers developed a clever method of marrying the mushroom to the sparky bugs.

Using a special bio-ink, the team printed the bacteria on the cap of the mushroom in a spiral pattern. They had previously used an electronic ink to embed graphene nano-ribbons on to the surface of the fungus to collect the current.

Shining a light on the structure activated the bacteria’s ability to photosynthesise, and as the cells harvested this glow they generated a small amount of electricity known as a “photocurrent”.

“We are looking to connect all the mushrooms in series, in an array, and we are also looking to pack more bacteria together,” Sudeep Joshi was quoted as saying by BBC.

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

The researchers believe that the idea could have potential as a renewable energy source.

“Right now we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them and you can change their molecules to produce higher photo currents, via photosynthesis,” said Sudeep Joshi.

“It’s a new start; we call it engineered symbiosis. If we do more research in this we can really push this field forward to have some type of effective green technology,” BBC quoted him as saying.

The study has been published in the journal Nano Letters.

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