Scientists Used This Mushroom to Generate Electricity From Light


By: Gaia Staff | Nov. 20th, 2018

Scientists have bio-engineered a mushroom to generate electricity through photosynthesis as an organic alternative energy source. While the mushroom produced a relatively small amount of energy – less than what would be needed to power a lightbulb – it presents an opportunity for further development that could potentially lead to an entirely clean and organic fuel source.

A team, led by postdoctoral researcher Sudeep Joshi at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, used a bio-ink to 3D print cyanobacteria – a microbe capable of turning light into electrical energy – onto the cap of a mushroom. They then shone a light on the mushroom’s surface, finding the bacteria generated small amounts of electricity.

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The cyanobacteria used in their experiment has excited scientists, due to its ability to synthesize electricity from sunlight, though on artificial surfaces it doesn’t fare so well — hence the mushroom medium.

The mushroom’s surface provides nutrients for the bacteria to thrive, creating a diverse microbiota, similar to bacteria that thrive in our gut. The team is hopeful their research could one day be scaled by finding a method to pack bacteria more densely and by wiring a collection of mushrooms together. They say several mushrooms wired in this fashion could power a small lamp.

“Right now we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them and you can change their molecules to produce higher photo currents, via photosynthesis,” Joshi told the BBC.

“It’s a new start; we call it engineered symbiosis. If we do more research, we can really push this field forward to have some type of effective green technology.”

Mushrooms and different types of fungi have been found to be effective treatments for a number of environmental issues ranging from saving bee populations from myriad threats, to breaking down plastics, and cleaning up oil spills. This latest discovery may just prove that mushrooms can provide yet another solution to help us live cleaner, more efficient lives.

One of the foremost experts in the field of mycology pioneering many of these fungal solutions is Paul Stamets, who runs the website Fungi Perfecti. Stamets considers the vast networks of mycelia – the roots of a mushroom that can populate a cubic inch of soil with 8 miles of cells – to be the internet infrastructure of our planet’s consciousness. In fact, mushroom mycelia are the largest living organisms on the planet, making the prospect of using them for energy all the more exciting.

Additionally, bacteria and other microorganisms such as archaea, are some of the oldest lifeforms on Earth, most of which have not been yet studied by humans. This leaves an incredible amount of potential to use them to solve some of the major environmental and energy crises of our era.

 

For more on the myriad mushroom potential, watch this episode of Inspirations with Lisa Garr and Paul Stamets: 

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