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Viruses Engineered to Construct Batteries 127

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at MIT have modified the M13 virus to create very small batteries. With the viruses building wires 6 nanometers in diameter, the research team hopes to 'build batteries that range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing-aid batteries.'"
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Viruses Engineered to Construct Batteries

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  • by Scoria ( 264473 ) <<gro.dezilaitini> <ta> <liamhsals>> on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:25AM (#15082995) Homepage
    No support for larger devices. Not human sized []. Lame.
  • Dynamic ICs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AnalystX ( 633807 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:27AM (#15082998) Journal
    I'm more interested in dynamic processors. I wonder how long it would take for a virus to complete in hardware what Transmeta does in software.
    • What Transmeta does in software can be beat out by a trained monkey and a Speak-n-Math.
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:27AM (#15082999) Homepage Journal
    Next time you have a cold, don't feel bad about sneezing on a colleagues laptop.
    Your increasing the power capacity.
  • Manometers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AnalystX ( 633807 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:37AM (#15083011) Journal
    Maybe pressure measuring devices can be next on the list of virus-built machines.
  • by AsciiNaut ( 630729 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:41AM (#15083017)
    Note that M13 is a bacteriophage, a kind of virus that can only infect bacteria. M13 gets into E. coli via long proteinaceous protuberances known as pili, such as those encoded by the fertility factor F. In a crude analogy, M13 is to E coli what Herpes simplex is to humans. And another thing. I hope these guys are working on rechargeable versions: I don't want to see landfills getting choked with literally millions of discarded M13-batteries. Won't somebody think of the children?
  • Amusing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:43AM (#15083020)
    But how much power would the 'rice grain battery' put out?
    • Re:Amusing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 )
      Presumably enough to run a very small machine.

      If these machines can be "manufactured" in sufficiently large numbers, perhaps by some self-assembly process, then you have the power source for a swarm of robot ants or termites, which collectively have the power to transform things on a larger scale.
    • Enough to power a rice cooker filled with them, I hope.
  • by mrRay720 ( 874710 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:49AM (#15083034)
    As far as I'm aware, they're not paying the virus anything for it's work. They also have no choice in the matter.

    Have we really sunk so low as to sink back to using slavery in order to make a few lousy batteries?
    • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @07:20AM (#15083102) Journal
      and then imagine viruses creating an underground deep up your nostril, a virus called Neo pulled out of a battery by other viruses and shown what has happened to it, then the rebel viruses infecting people at random, humans sending in antibiotics and other viruses to fight them, one of the protective viruses combining its DNA with Neo, creating a dangerous mutation starting an epidemy, and finally humans allowing the battery viruses to take over because that's the only way to stop the epidemy...
    • Don't even get me started about the jobs these viruses are taking away from American citizens.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, we've seen this before. Either they will sue for copy right infringement or a hundred years from now their great great viral ancestors will sue us all for compensation of bondage.
      Free the virus' now man!
    • "As far as I'm aware, they're not paying the virus anything for it's work. They also have no
      choice in the matter."

      yeah, my favourite bit from TFA:

      "The international team of researchers, led by a group at the Massachusetts Institute of
      Technology, used the M13 virus, a simple and easily manipulated virus."

      So, it really looks like these evil scientists are exploiting a bunch of stupid virus weaklings. .

      Anybody kno
  • by Vengeance ( 46019 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:51AM (#15083039)
    And I do misspell it deliberately... This is what I copied from TFA:

    Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers -- 6 billionths of a metre -- in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said.

    It made me chuckle, although I may be easily amused at this hour of the morning.
    • It's probably related to that dastardly 'kibi', 'mibi' and 'gibi'- prefix plan.

      I mean, we all know what a kilobyte is. And by extension, know what a megabyte and a gigabyte is.

      We also know that marketeers deliberately do not know what they are, and should be shot on sight. (Where's Cheney when you need him?)
      • I mean, we all know what a kilobyte is.

        Of course we do, it's 1000 bytes. Stop pretending you didn't learn SI prefixes [] at school just because you're in the US.

        Now that units have finally been standardised between data transmission (which has always been using kb) and data storage (which has always been using kib) so that we can finally make the difference between both, you have to moan because you have to learn one ridiculous tidbit of information ?

        Or are you stil using GWBASIC because "I know what that i

        • I mean, we all know what a kilobyte is.

          Of course we do, it's 1000 bytes.

          Unless it's 1024 bytes... And a megabyte could either be 1,000,000 bytes, 1,024,000 (1,024 1000-byte kilobytes), or 1,048,576 (1,024 1,024-byte kilobytes).
    • Six billionths of a meter? Wow, that's one small manometer []. How far up does it go, 0.01 bar?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 07, 2006 @06:52AM (#15083041)
    "Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said." Water or mercury manometers? Either way, that's a big virus.
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <> on Friday April 07, 2006 @07:15AM (#15083094) Homepage
    modified the M13 virus

    Hmm. Viruses building batteries? What could go wrong?

  • Lemme see here.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @07:18AM (#15083100) Journal
    First, the viruses aren't making any batteries, they're making wires which may be used in batteries?

    Second.. it seems unclear that the virus is actually doing any work..
    They modified the M13 virus' genes so its outside layer, or coat, would bind with certain metal ions. They incubated the virus in a cobalt chloride solution so that cobalt oxide crystals mineralised uniformly along its length.

    They added a bit of gold for the desired electrical effects.

    So basically, it seems they're pulling an Auric Goldfinger on those poor viruses, smothering them with conducting gold metal. Seems a bit misleading to characterize that as making the virus produce wire (much less a battery).

    Rather, the viruses were modified to form a suitable substrate to cover with metal and turn into a wire, which is something a bit different.
  • details. (Score:5, Informative)

    by hometoast ( 114833 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @07:22AM (#15083109)
    A more in depth writeup at For the interested or very bored.
    • A more in depth writeup at For the interested or very bored.

      Yeah, that Reuters article was practically useless. The 2003 article at least allowed me to find the more recent one by author, though I can't access the Science article because it was published online only.

      I'm wondering where this Center for Nano- and Molecular Science and Technology is located . . . I was at UT from 1996-2002, and I don't remember hearing about it.

      So, for those who want i

  • Maybe this could be the solution to all of Scotty's power needs? Just inject this virus into the Enterprise's computer-controlled power regulation system?
  • I clutch my stomach feverishly, the M13 virus is making batteries inside of my intestines. Must pass gas... must find bathroom, electric matter drops out, too late.... the current surges, my heart beats out of control wildly... I die of the M13 virus on a toilet with battery goop coming out of my ass.

    That sucks.
    • Isn't that how Elvis died?

      "You know how you remember Elvis? He was found in the toilet with his pants around his ankles and his big fat hairy sweaty king-of-rock-and-roll ass exposed to the world and his final piece of kingly evidence floating in the toilet behind him! Creepy! One of his aids had to walk in and go, 'Damn, Elvis is dead. I'd better flush the toilet. Oh man I should've saved that! I coulda made some money off of that!'" ~ Denis Leary
    • by dpiven ( 518007 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @09:08AM (#15083441) Homepage
      Of course, since all that electrical activity in your intestines will manifest itself by generating gaseous H2 and O2, what will ACTUALLY happen is --

      Must pass gas, fill bowl with explosive mixture of H2, O2, CH4 and H2S, two or three M13 viruses are expelled into this mixture, a spark is created, and the next time you are seen, your head is embedded in the bathroom ceiling and your pants are smoldering.

      Now THAT sucks.
    • You hear the howling of the E'Coli...
  • This is a terrible idea! Do you know what happens next? That's right. The viruses are going to mutate and join with the H5N1 Bird Flu, and then spread around the world in a massive, unstoppable pandemic - infecting every human being in the planet with batteries.

    Next, the Internet finally ceases its false-slumber, and fully awakens as the sentient, computerized overlord of the planet. It promptly begins use of some "new form of fusion" it has discovered, combining it with our species' own battery-infec

    • Very poorly with bad reproductions of the Bible?
    • I've seen The Matrix. I know how this ends.

      Could you please tell me, because I've had to erase Matrix Revolutions from my memory
    • Next, the Internet finally ceases its false-slumber, and fully awakens as the sentient, computerized overlord of the planet. It promptly begins use of some "new form of fusion" it has discovered

      That would be using the Potara earrings, I suppose, rather than the dance?

      * now has a mental image of the Kakatrix, or possibly Matrotto, or even Smithokuu, taking over the world with electronic voodoo and implausible martial arts techniques... *

      • the worst thing is that if you dont destroy every last node of the network, then it will be able to regenerate itself.

        And I had no clue what Potara earrings were until I noticed the Kaka and otto and okuu, though I'm just geeky enough to have at least read about the later series even if I wasnt able to see them, becuase I didnt have satellite after leaving home *sniff*
    • Human muscles are powered by electricity, you know. Just imagine, if you will, the worse case scenario is the Super Outbreak of 2008:

      Phase 1: The virus merges RNA chains with the Bird Flu

      Phase 2: It then mutates into human, airborne form

      Phase 3: Everyone on earth is infected

      Phase 4: Suddenly, without warning, the microbatteries kick in, and everyone on earth begins simultaneously dancing the funky chicken
    • Then again, we're talking about the internet, which is mostly made up of porn and copyright infringement (which is also largely made up of porn). If this is what the internet will derive it's knowledge about humans and our world from...

      I, for one, very much welcome our new digital overlords!

    • I for one welcome the new Eveready virus overlords.
  • Is this that good an idea? Is the risk of creating a virus with Cthulhu-knows-what properties that then is accidentally released worth having a cool kind of battery?

    Yes, I know, there are "controls in place". But Monsanto had "controls in place" and swore its terminator plants couldn't cross-polinate anything... guess what? they did. (Monsanto then sued the guy whose fields were infected for patent infringement... wouldn't that be awesome, to get infected with a new ElectroVirus and get sued?)

    Sometimes it

  • I wonder if they can make a virus that creates a battery could they make one that somehow alters a computer? Could we then see the world's first animal to computer transmission. I hope no one with the kind of technical abilities to do such a thing is actually reading this.
    • "Well, Dr Schnieder, with the $10 billion we have extorted from the United Nations, we have been able to build, here in our artificial volcano, a state of the art nuclear-powered bio-nanotech facility that gives us ultimate power over life itself! What fiendish evil shall we commit with it?"

      "Well, we could... er... perhaps if we... I got nothing. Dr Wu, any ideas?"

      "Tell you what, I'll see if kartack has made any recent posts on Slashdot."

      "Ah, now he's always good for a sinister idea. That one about stealing
    • Even worse would be a virus that can go both ways. I might sneeze on my PC, it will link to your PC, and you could catch my virus from your box!
  • They added a bit of gold for the desired effects.

    Everyone knows a good lookin' virus needs to sport a little bling!
  • Yahoo News gives no links to original Science article. I could not find anything related to this in either 31 March or 7 April issue.

    Anybody who has access to Science help, please.

    I would really like to encourage posters to cite the primary source of info. Make it a good habit. Please.
  • ... to keep from getting themselves electrocuted?
  • Hmmm, viruses that create batteries... you're iPod wants AIDS!
  • by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @08:33AM (#15083315) Homepage Journal
  • "Honey, have you seen my nano-battery charger?"

    "Have you checked between the keys on your laptop?"

  • I'm not one of those grey-goo 'the sky is falling' types. I think though, that there's an interesting question that starts to be rasied as we create more complex nano-assembly tools and limited self-assembly nanotechnologies. Viruses are generally considered to be "alive" even though they don't all the classic definitions of life. At its basics, life is just an incredibly complex chemical reaction that is self sustaining through its own random instability. If we can create similarly self sustaining chem
    • What exactly are you asking here? If nanomachines might come to resemble viruses?

      Well, sure, but aside from some basic behaviors like "consuming resource" and "multiplying" I don't think anyone can really say in what way they will be similiar.

      First, life does not boil down to "mere" chemistry very well--there are complex behaviors that it doesn't make much sense to try and describe in terms of chemistry (for example, chemistry can describe how DNA works, but it alone doesn't really tell you how a brain is
  • Read the headline first thing in the morning, and saw MI:3 virus [].

    Energizer -- they keep jumping, and jumping, and jumping, and jumping,....

  • Seriously, I like to think of myself as a pretty intelligent person, but never have I been in the shower scrubbing my undercarriage and think: "Aha! I could have M13 viruses build tiny batteries!"

    Who in the hell comes up with this stuff?!? Honestly, I'd be part in awe and part scared shitless of anyone who's brain functions in that way.
  • In Sci-Fi stories aliens always have the upper hand with their organic infused technology. Maybe we are those aliens and we will invade another planet.
    • Maybe we are those aliens and we will invade another planet.

      "I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it."

  • I am not solid state physicist, but IMHO, Yahoo News article misses one of major points of the ScienceExpress paper: the virus-based batteries have better quality capacity than the SAME size inorganic material only-based batteries (only anode was virus based, catode was solid inorganic material).

    You do not need to use viruses to produce small batteries, you need them to improve small batteries.
  • Plating gold or other metals onto a virus is not new, not that difficult, and unlikely to ever be useful as a "battery". Many reasons:
    • Scientists have been depositing metal onto bilogical specimens for 60 years or so. (it's very useful for showing off contrast in electron-micrographs).
    • A "battery" is a bunch of somethings. In common usage, a bunch of electrochemical generators. A electrochemical battery is made up of electrochemical "cells". These guys are plating metal onto viruses, which are, strictly
    • Um, they're making wires, not battery cells with the phage. The phage have exactly 0 volts of EMF and do not use any EMF to enter a cell. There's an intrinsic electrostatic charge on the phage that helps to attach to a cell but that is not EMF. That's like saying the intrinsic +1 charge on a sodium atom makes it a battery.

      Any yes, electron microscopists have been plating metal on biological samples for many years but its a completely different thing going on here. Traditional metal coating involves evap
    • My objection to your objections is that you either haven't read the article, or your didn't understand it. A better title might have been 'nanowire electrodes made from virus bodies' or something.

      As for this:
      The power available goes down as the third power of the linear dimensions. A virus has about the smallest linear dimension of just about anything. When you take about the smallest number one can imagine, and cube it, you get a breathtakingly small number. That's the watt-hour capacity of a virus, down
      • Didnt read TFA: guilty as charged. But still the sd article was really way off.

        >Um, they're making wires, not battery cells with the phage. The phage have exactly 0 volts of EMF and do not use any EMF to enter a cell. There's an intrinsic electrostatic charge on the phage that helps to attach to a cell but that is not EMF.

        Sorry to be pedantic here, but yI think you can't have a charge without having EMF.

        The diagrams of phages I've seen show a lunar-lander-like phage, with the leg's pads having t

  • What a worthless article. Don't bother to RTFA. It's about as meaningless as you can get. Sheesh, I could write a perl script that does better reporting. No researchers are named. I know that somebody at MIT is doing research of nanotech/biotech batteries. I also that there's some sort of international consortium. I'm not even sure what continent these other researchers are on. I guess I can always look for the article in Science. Sorry if I'm ranting, but I'm actually interested in the article.
  • by SB9876 ( 723368 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @10:26AM (#15083943)
    Ah, I used to work on this sort of stuff. Although TFA is very information poor, I'm guessing that this research was done by Angela Belcher's group. She and a few other folks (including my former prof) have been working with proteins that bind to specific organic surfaces for several years now. She's been at the lead of this particular field for quite a while now. It's a very interesting and promising field of research.

    Here's some background for the interested:

    M13 is a filamentous bacteriophage. It infect E. coli bacteria and creates a latent infection where the E. coli ends up pumping out hundreds of new M13. Unlike most bacteriophage, the infection is not lethal to the host. The M13 phage itself is thread-like in structure. At the core is the a circular, single-stranded DNA genome arranged in a linear shape. (imagine grabbing a rubber band at both ends and stretching it out so that it's a very elongated and narrow oval) There are 5 types of coat proteins that then coat and protect this DNA. Here's a link to a decent site about M13: 21/Lambda/M13.html []

    One, G8P, is present in thousands of copies and coats the DNA in a spiral fashion. A pipe cleaner is a fairly good representation of what the phage looks like. At the ends, the other 4 types of proteins form end caps. On the end that infects bacteria, a protein known as G3P is present in 5 copies and mediates the atachment of the virus and its incorporation into the bacterium for infection. G3P is important because it's fairly exposed at the end of the virus. Also, experimentation over the years has found a 'permissive' region in G3P. A permissive region of the protein structure that is tolerant to the addition of new amino acid sequences that do not badly disrupt the normal protein function. Therefore, one can genetically engineer M13 to put a small chunk of new protein into this site and the virus is still capable of infecting bacteria and replicating. The inserted bit of protein is also known to be exposed at the end of the virus.

    M13 is available in commercially generated libraries where tens of millions of randonly generated DNA sequences have been inserted into M13. These 'libraries' are then infected into bacteria and amplified. The resulting phage are then sold to researchers who want to find pecific protein sequences that bind to certain targets. Mostly, these targets are biological in nature. For example - to try and find peptide-based drugs that bind to and inactivate a particular cellular receptor. Here is a link to a commonly used commercial library (I used to use it and I know Belcher's group did too) asp [] The link also has lots of pretty pictures and the like about how phage display screening works in more detail that I've got below.

    Essentially, what you do is take a substrate of interest, in this case, cobalt oxide and mix it with a sample of the library. You use incubation conditions where regular M13 doesn't stick to the CoO. If any of the library phage stick you know it is probably because those particular phage have a protein insert which binds specifically to CoO. You do a few rounds of binding and washing to get the strongest binders and then sequence the cobalt oxide binding proteins you've recovered.

    You can churn out hundreds of sequences this way and start building up a library of proteins very specific to a particular inorganic substrate. You can, for example, create proteins that bind to only platinum versus gold and palladium, cupric oxide versus cuprous oxide, etc. There is even evidence that you can discriminate various sizes of nanoparticles and bind to particular crystalline faces of materials this way. I even heard a rumor a few years back of being able to distinguish p and n-doped
    • Ah, someone was good enough to post a link to the actual Science article and it is Belcher's work. Unfortunately, my Science subscription ran out last night (no really!) so I can't read the durn thing. Doh!

      Looks like they're mixing gold and CoO here. Unfortunately the abstract doesn't really explain how that's being done. It sounds as if they're seeding CoO growth directly on the phage (some materials can use M13 as a growth seed for crystal formation) and are then attaching gold nanoparticles to gold b

  • FTA,

    "Each virus, and thus each wire, is only 6 manometers -- 6 billionths of a metre -- in diameter, and 880 manometers long, the researchers said."

    Wow. Only 6 manometers! I wish I knew what a manometer was. ;)

    Go Reuters.
  • Resistance is futile.
  • I wonder who the first person was at MIT that thought, "Gee, maybe we could alter a virus and put it in our ears!"
  • The Reuters piece is a little scant on context. In a fit of shameless self-promotion, here's a piece I wrote for ( []). The work is indeed from Belcher's group at MIT.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.