Yeast cells feeding on the glucose in human blood might one day power implants such as pacemakers. A living source of power that is able to regenerate itself would eliminate the need for regular operations to replace batteries.
Now that reality is a step nearer. A team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has created tiny microbial fuel cells by encapsulating yeast cells in a flexible capsule. They went on to show the fuel cells can generate power from a drop of human blood plasma.
Such fuel cells would be especially useful for devices, such as intraspinal microelectrodes for treating paralysis, which need to be implanted in places where replacing a battery is tricky, says Mu Chiao, who co-authored the paper with Chin-Pang-Billy Siu, also at UBC.
The yeast-based fuel cell produces around 40 nanowatts of power, compared to the microwatt a typical wristwatch battery might produce, Chaio says. That might be enough power for some devices if it were coupled with a capacitor to allow energy to be stored. The yeast could also be genetically engineered to boost its power output.
This is a step in the right direction, but huge challenges remain, says Lars Angenent, who works on microbial fuel cells at Cornell University.
For instance, to keep the yeast cells healthy, their waste products will need to be removed without allowing any harmful substances to leach out into the blood stream. "I think people will figure this out. This is a first step," he says.
------------------------Big heads to my friend, Dubbie Acuña, for the link. Besides being a long-time member of Los Pasteles Verdes, Dubbie enjoys working on other musical projects including Mama Cesta.
When not playing music or getting paid for computer nerdery...he can be found eating tofu pho @ Pho 99 in Northern VA on a pretty regular basis.