Grow Your Own Computer?
Magnet-making bacteria may be used to create the next generation of hard drives, making them much smaller and much faster than current models, and cells may be used to create tiny electrical bio-wires.
As the bacteria take in and digest iron, they end up creating tiny magnets inside themselves, similar to those found inside hard drives.
Living in a world which craves all things smaller, faster and quieter, computer companies and scientists alike have been trying to craft smaller components for years. Though, as the technology itself gets smaller, the task to make such nano-products has become increasingly difficult.
“We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller… Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to [deal with] this problem,” Said Dr. Sarah Staniland, professor at the University of Leeds.
“Using today’s ‘top-down’ method — essentially sculpting tiny magnets out of a big magnet — it is increasingly difficult to produce the small magnets of the same size and shape which are needed to store data,” said Johanna Galloway, a Leeds PhD student who created the magnetic array used to build these micro hard drives, according to a university press statement.
“Using the method developed here at Leeds, the proteins do all the hard work; they gather the iron, create the most magnetic compound, and arrange it into regularly sized cubes.”
According to BBC News, the scientists used the bacterium Magnetospirilllum magneticum. These micro-organisms are naturally magnetic and often live in watery environments, such as lakes and ponds.
As they ingest iron, the proteins inside their bodies interact with it and produce small crystals of the mineral magnetite. This mineral is the most magnetic in the world.
The international team of researchers studied the way these microbes gather, shape and position these super-small magnets inside their bodies in order to recreate the phenomenon outside of the bacteria. Thus, the team was able to “grow” these magnets. Now, they hope these magnets will one day be used to store your photos, music and other data, according to Dr. Staniland.
Not content with magnet creating bacteria, the team was also able to create living electrical wires from other small organisms.
These wires were created by growing nano-scale tubes from cell membranes with the help of human proteins.
Just like the bacterial hard drives, these tubes may one day be used in “living” computers to transfer information just as cells communicate within our bodies.
Speaking to BBC, Dr Masayoshi Tanaka from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology said, “These biological wires can have electrical resistance and can transfer information from one set of cells inside a bio-computer to all the other cells.”
These wires may not only be used inside computers, but may also find some applications in human surgery, as they are highly biocompatible, according to Dr. Tanaka.
“Various tiny wires have been already developed all over the world, but the biocompatibility is still problematic,” he said. “The fabricated nano-wires in this study were covered with components of cell membrane, so theoretically they are highly biocompatible.”
“Our aim is to develop a toolkit of proteins and chemicals which could be used to grow computer components from scratch,” adds Dr Staniland.
The results of this study appears in the journal Small.