Cockroaches that provide power for recording devices? Controlled insects that function as super-spies? They may sound like bugs from a science fiction movie, but in fact, they’re not as futuristic as you might think. Experimenters from Case Western Reserve University are currently developing technology that transforms bugs’ internal chemistry into electricity.
Eat Up So We Can Recharge
How do these cyberbugs work? The process uses the insects’ own feeding actions to create electricity. First, bugs are implanted with biofuel cells to transform the energy into usable power. The cells use one enzyme to break down sugars that the bugs produce when they eat into two other types of sugar called monosaccharides. A second enzyme then oxidizes the monosaccharides, releasing electrons. Current then begins to flow, creating electricity. So far, experimenters have measured the bugs’ output at 100 microwatts per square centimeter at 0.2 volts.
The implants are placed far from the bugs’ internal organs, so the bugs are not seriously damaged by the operation. In fact, bugs implanted with the device often get up and walk away immediately afterward. Going forward, scientists hope to be able to further miniaturize the device so that flying insects will be able to fly normally after implantation. Additional potential developments include sensors that run on very little energy, and may be powered by the bugs’ electricity, and rechargeable batteries for the biofuel cells.
So what can you do with an electricity-producing bug? One of the many possible applications is the use of bugs to monitor poisonous gas concentrations. A sensor-equipped bug could periodically measure the amount of poisonous gas in a room, and broadcast the results at regular intervals. Who knew that cockroaches might one day be helpful? Even these creepy insects might eventually be put to good use!