In the near future it may be possible to charge your cell phone battery or your car using a genetically engineered virus.
Researchers at UC Berkeley have recently engineered a virus that is able to produce an electrical current strong enough to power small electronics when subjected to stress. They created a small electrode that, upon being tapped, begins to produce electricity (4). Over at MIT, Angela Belcher and her colleagues are using viruses in the hopes of creating batteries able to produce three times the energy of current lithium ion models. In order to do so, they have introduced virus M13 into their prototype batteries. M13 is then able to attract nearby metallic molecules along with water essentially creating larger, more conductive nanowires. More surface area means more energy output.
Success would mean affordable, portable generators for the masses. Belcher et al. hope to implement their research in cars in the future, greatly increasing electric-powered mileage, which would effectively cut down on carbon emissions. While virus-powered cars are an ambitious undertaking, perhaps these viral energy conduits could be put to use in smaller electronics in the nearer-future, such as MP3 players, phones, and computers. Gone could be the days of multiple charging cables, replaced by a simple tap to power your electronics.
Virus batteries could potentially eliminate fossil fuel emissions from automobiles and make a dramatic difference in our environment by adding a sustainable energy source to our arsenal – something that is sorely needed.
The research regarding viral batteries is still relatively new and it will most likely be quite a while before we have biologically-powered cars.