Scientists 3D print a bionic mushroom to generate bioelectricity

Scientists at the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, 3D printed what they’re calling a “bionic mushroom” capable of generating electricity.

Revealed in a study published in Nano Letters journal, the team has showed how the abilities of varying biological species can be combined for innovative applications.

Sudeep Joshi, co-author of the paper and Postdoctoral Fellow at Stevens, said, “We showed for the first time that a hybrid system can incorporate an artificial collaboration, or engineered symbiosis, between two different microbiological kingdoms.”

A graphic visualization of the experiment. Image via Nano Letters
A graphic visualization of the experiment. Image via Nano Letters

Bioelectricity via photosynthesis

Cyanobacteria are one of the largest groups of bacteria in the world. These microorganisms produce energy through photosynthesis, and ability which scientist have found can be transferred to other biological species in the plant kingdom.

Previous studies conducted on the survivability of cyanobacteria on artificial surfaces have shown poor results. Therefore, for this study, the researchers chose to use white button mushrooms as a substrate.

Though mushrooms lack the photosynthesis ability, its structure can sustain cyanobacterial colonies within its cap, or “pileus.” As Manu Mannoor, co-author of the paper, and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stevens, explains “By integrating cyanobacteria that can produce electricity, with nanoscale materials capable of collecting the current, we were able to better access the unique properties of both, augment them, and create an entirely new functional bionic system.”

Using a 3D printer white button mushrooms were colonized with cyanobacteria, producing a bionic mushroom capable of photosynthetic bioelectric generation.

A white button mushroom with 3D printed cyanobacteria (green) and grapheme nanoribbons (black). Image via American Chemical Society
A white button mushroom with 3D printed cyanobacteria (green) and graphene nanoribbons (black). Image via American Chemical Society

Bioprinting bionic mushrooms

The inks used to make this mushroom photosyntheic are made respectively from graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) and cyanobacterial cells. Both inks were 3D printed onto the pileus of the mushroom using a modified F5200N.1 Compact Gantry Benchtop Robot, by Fisnar, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of fluid dispensing technologies.

In the first step an electrode network of GNRs was 3D printed in a Fibonacci sequence onto the umbrella of the mushroom. Secondly, on top of the electrode pattern, cyanobaterial cells were 3D printed in a spiral pattern.

Exposing the mushroom to light activates the cyanobaterial photosynthesis. The GNR electrode network printed underneath the cyanobacteria collects electricity generated by the cyanobacterial cells and generates a photocurrent.

As stated in the paper’s conclusion, “The presently developed 3D printed bionic mushroom architecture is an environment-friendly and green source of photosynthetic bioelectricity with advanced functionality of nourishing the energy producing cyanobacteria,”

“We believe that techniques developed in the present research can also be extended to 3D print other bacterial colonies with smart hydrogel materials for advancing bionic integration studies.”

The research discussed in this article is titled, Bacterial Nanobionics via 3D Printing. It was published in the journal Nano Letters, and co-authored by Sudeep Joshi, Ellexis Cook, and Manu S. Mannoor.

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Featured image shows a bionic white button mushroom. Image via Nano Letters.