Bacteria Used to Power Simple Machines

ARGONNE, Ill., Dec. 16 (UPI) — U.S. Department of Energy scientists say they’ve used common bacteria to power simple machines, providing insight for creating bio-inspired energy production.

The researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University said they discovered bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution.


“The gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria,” said physicist Igor Aronson, who led the study. “The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motions is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms.”

The scientists discovered the aerobic bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, appear to swim around the solution randomly, but occasionally the organisms will collide with the spokes of the gear and begin turning it in a definite direction. The researchers then added a few hundred bacteria which worked together to turn the gear.

When multiple gears are placed in the solution with the spokes connected, the bacteria will begin turning both gears in opposite directions and it will cause the gears to rotate in synchrony for a long time, the scientists said.

“Our discovery demonstrates how microscopic swimming agents, such as bacteria or man-made nanorobots, in combination with hard materials can constitute a ‘smart material’ which can dynamically alter its microstructures, repair damage or power microdevices,” Aronson said.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International


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