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Implanted biofuel cell converts bug's chemistry into electricity

An insect's internal chemicals can be converted to electricity, potentially providing power for sensors, recording devices or to control the bug, a group of researchers at Case Western Reserve University report.

The finding is yet another in a growing list from universities across the country that could bring the creation of insect cyborgs touted as possible first responders to super spies out of science fiction and into reality. In this case, the power supply, while small, doesn't rely on movement, light or batteries, just normal feeding.

The work is published in the online Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"It is virtually impossible to start from scratch and make something that works like an insect," said Daniel Scherson, chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve and senior author of the paper.

"Using an insect is likely to prove far easier," Scherson said. "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."

Scherson teamed with graduate student Michelle Rasmussen, Biology Professor Roy E. Ritzmann, Chemistry Professor Irene Lee and Biology Research Assistant Alan J. Pollack to develop an implantable biofuel cell to provide usable power.

The key to converting the chemical energy is using enzymes in series at the anode.

The first enzyme breaks the sugar, trehalose, which a cockroach constantly produces from its food, into two simpler sugars, called monosaccharides. The second enzyme oxidizes the monosaccharides, releasing electrons.

The current flows as electrons are drawn to the cathode, where oxygen from air takes up the electrons and is reduced to water.

After testing the system using trehalose solutions, prototype electrodes were inserted in a blood sinus in the abdomen of a female cockroach, away from critical internal organs.


Contact: Kevin Mayhood
Case Western Reserve University

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