Snails: Eat, Kill, use as a battery?

Can organisms be used as a source of biofuel?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The view of many is that snails are either something to eat, something you accidentally squash underfoot, or a pest to keep at bay by pouring lines of salt in front of your garden flowers. However, a team of researchers at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, envision a potentially different future for your garden pest.

How about using a gastropod as a source of fuel?

The study, 'Implanted Biofuel Cell Operating in a Living Snail' has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. As grim as it may sound, and as Chemistry World pointed out, by using the kind of technology suggested in the film The Matrix, the researchers managed to implant a biofuel cell into a living land snail in order to generate electricity.

Each cell is made from carbon nanotude 'paper', modified with enzymes that produce sugar. As the snail fed or relaxed, some of the glucose generated found its way into the fuel cell -- therefore generating an electrical output.

The 'electric' snail was able to continually renew these glucose levels consumed by biocatalytic electrodes, and maintain this kind of energy generation for long periods of time.

By using such a small organism, the maximum power output achieved from the biofuel cells was only 7.45µW, so even for a low-consumption device it would take a substantial amount of snails to power.

However, the point of the research was not to see if giant snail-cell farms could provide energy needs. Instead, the research has shown that it is possible to implant and power future medical devices that could perform tasks such as delivering drugs or monitoring diseases -- where electricity is generated by the 'host' itself rather than an external source.

Implantable biofuel cells have been suggested as a means to sustainably power devices operating in living organisms, but there are few examples currently available, especially in the cases of abiotic and enzyme-based biofuel cells operating in animals.

The team reports that the snail with the implanted biofuel cell was able to continue living naturally without detrimental effects caused by the implant, and the success of this experiment shows there may be a way to power electrical devices through a 'host' in the future.

(via: Chemistry World)

Image credit: Virginie Moerenhout


This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards