Researchers use insect biochemistry to generate electricity.
Touted as possible first responders or super spies, insect cyborgs could be the research community's next big breakthrough. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have taken one step closer to bringing these tiny techno-wonders out of science fiction and into reality.
The team discovered that an insect's internal chemicals can be converted to electricity, potentially providing power to sensors and recording devices, or to control the bug.
The work has been published in the online Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Using an actual insect will likely prove easier than trying to create something insect-like from scratch, according to Daniel Scherson, chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve and the paper's senior author. "For that, you need electrical energy to power sensors or to excite the neurons to make the insect do as you want, by generating enough power out of the insect itself," he says.
So Scherson and his team developed an implantable biofuel cell that uses a series of enzymes to convert the chemical energy inside an insect's body into useable power.
Insects' open circulatory systems make the implants easy on their hosts, researchers say. Insect blood is under little pressure, unlike the blood running in the veins and arteries of vertebrates, so researchers can insert the cells without harming the bugs. "In fact, it's not unusual for the insect to right itself and walk or run away afterward," says Roy E. Ritzmann, a biology professor on the research team.
Graduate student Michelle Rasmussen, chemistry professor Irene Lee and biology research assistant Alan J. Pollack also collaborated on the project.
Next steps include making the fuel cell small enough to be completely implanted, allowing the insect to run or fly normally; investigating longer-lasting materials and adding a lightweight rechargeable battery.
"It's possible the system could be used intermittently," Scherson says. "An insect equipped with a sensor could measure the amount of noxious gas in a room, broadcast the finding, shut down and recharge for an hour, then take a new measurement and broadcast again."