Paper-based Origami Battery Operates on the Respiration of Microbes

Simple battery could lead to a self-contained biosensor system costing only five cents

2 min read
Paper-based Origami Battery Operates on the Respiration of Microbes
Photo: Binghamton University

The Japanese art of folding paper into objects, known as origami, has taken on new life in nanotechnology research. The latest incarnation of this ancient art comes to us via research out of Binghamton University in New York. The technique has been applied to a battery technology that uses bacteria as the power source.

In the journal Nano Energy, the Binghamton researchers demonstrate how they have captured the respiration of microbes to generate enough energy to power a paper-based biosensor. All the microbes that were needed could be provided in a single drop of liquid teeming with bacteria.

“Dirty water has a lot of organic matter,” said Seokheun “Sean” Choi, who led the research, in a press release. “Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism.”

Origami’s role in the battery design comes into play with the folding of two-dimensional sheets to create a three-dimensional battery structure that is about the size of a matchbook. The air-breathing cathode was produced by spraying nickel onto one side of a typical piece of paper. The anode is screen printed with carbon paints. The bacteria-laced water was added into a folded battery stack. In operation, this stack is unfolded, exposing all the cathodes to the air, maximizing their cathodic reactions.

The point of developing this simple battery was to find a way to power a separate paper-based biosensor without depending on an external handheld device to run the analysis. Choi believes that the simple battery he and his colleagues have developed can produce the microwatts required to run a biosensor in a self-contained system.

This simple, self-contained device should prove particularly useful in remote locations where resources—especially money—are limited; the entire device would cost only five cents.

Having been awarded a US $300,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a commercially viable origami battery, Choi is confident that we could see such a device in the field in the not-too-distant future.

Choi added: “Paper is cheap and it’s biodegradable. And we don’t need external pumps or syringes [for a paper-based biosensor] because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force.”

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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