Virus has been used to produce electricity; Research

Science has the habit of doing strange feats and this time it has amazed the human beings by utilizing the viruses for the production of electricity.

This research has been done by Seung-Wuk Lee, a bioengineer at the University of California, Berkeley, and his collaborators there and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and has been published online in the May 13 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

[hana-code-insert name=’StumbleUpon’ /][hana-code-insert name=’Reddit’ /]It is a common routine to convert mechanical energy into electricity, and vice versa, by the use of “piezoelectric effect“, which was first discovered in 1880. Piezoelectric materials include crystals, proteins and DNAs. They are composed of molecules that have more positive charges on one side of the molecule than the other side and the positive ends are facing one way while the negative ends facing the opposite way. On compression, this polarity is increased resulting in the generation of the electric voltage.

Researchers developed phages – viruses that can cause infection to bacteria – with the ability to bind with particular inorganic semiconductor nanoparticles. They were finding the piezoelectric phages and found M13 bacteriophage that has narrow, tube shaped outer coat consisting of about 2700 copies of a rod-shaped protein having positive charges on one side and negative charges on the other side. In order to get attracted to the negatively charged DNA the positive ends of the proteins lean into the hollow core.

Researchers added glutamates – negatively charged amino acid – to the negatively charged end of the protein to increase the negative charge and thereby the piezoelectric properties. They placed millions of such viruses on an electrode, where the phages assemble themselves. Then they placed several layers of these viral films on one another to increase the piezoelectric effect and then placed the second electrode. On pressing a finger to the upper electrode, the viral film was compressed resulting in the generation of electricity that could light up the number one of a tiny liquid crystal display.

Although, it is still producing very little power but the researchers are hopeful that soon they will increase its efficiency to be used easily in medical and biological applications.


Byung Yang Lee, Jinxing Zhang, Chris Zueger, Woo-Jae Chung, So Young Yoo, Eddie Wang, Joel Meyer, Ramamoorthy Ramesh & Seung-Wuk Lee, (2012). Virus-based piezoelectric energy generation. Nature Nanotechnology, doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.69

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