Virus Power

Bacteria have potential for manufacturing a wide range of materials, but they also play host to viruses called bacteriophages. The M13 bacteriophage is one such species which propagates rapidly inside an infected bacteria.

The M13 phage is a small rod shape virus (880nm x 6.6nm) and when concentrated, the rods line up to form liquid crystals with a structure reminiscent of corn in a cornfield.

With a little bit of protein modification, Lee et al have formed these into stable multilayers on a gold surface (1). They then made a sandwich of the M13 phage film with another gold surface. After a bit of soldering and embedding the sandwich in a Silicone rubber block they had a tiny device that generated a voltage when squeezed.

The viral film is piezoelectric, so more squeezing gives more output, sufficient to turn on a liquid crystal display. This took a multilayer of twenty units covering an area of around the size of a key on your computer keyboard. Maybe one day soon we’ll be typing using virus power.


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