Cyborg Bacteria Soaking in the Sun
Dr Khalil Khan
8 December 2017
Cyborg is short for ‘cybernetic organism’. Scientists have created bacteria ‘bugs’ that are covered in tiny semiconductor crystals. These so-called cyborg bugs are a potential fuel source, utilising carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. In nature, the chlorophyll (green pigment) in plant leaves is key to the process of photosynthesis. Plants convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose, using sunlight. Researchers around the globe have been attempting to artificially replicate photosynthesis for many years.
In lab experiments, certain bacteria are grown in small quantities of heavy metals such as cadmium or lead, and have a natural defence ability to convert heavy metal into a metal sulphide, which is expressed as tiny crystal semiconductors on their surfaces. These can be cultured in liquid broth with small aliquots of cadmium solution added. After a few days this results in these photosynthetic organisms.
These newly boosted bacteria produce acetic acid (essentially vinegar) from carbon dioxide, water and light. Acetic acid is a chemical that can be turned into fuel.
Dr Sakimoto stated, ‘We prize these cyborg bacteria and their ability to make acetate because they produce a substrate that we can already use to produce more valuable and more interesting products’.
These inorganic-biological hybrids may have significant environmental and commercial potential.