MIT Builds Batteries with Viruses

Normally, one would associate the word virus with something negative, whether it is a malfunctioning desktop computer or a sickness. However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have "trained" viruses in a lab to create a miniature battery.

By manipulating a few genes within the virus, researchers were able to get the organism to grow and then assemble itself into a functional electronic device. They hope to be able to build a battery that could be as small as a grain of rice.

Two opposite electrodes -- or conductors -- form the structure of a battery, called an anode and a cathode. These are separated by something called an electrolyte, a liquid of gel-like substance that contains ions and can conduct electricity.

In the process created by MIT researchers, the viruses were engineered to create the anode by collecting cobalt oxide and gold. Since these viruses have a negative charge, they are then layered between oppositely charged synthetic polymers to create thin sheets.

Batteries made with this process could store two to three times the energy of traditional batteries that size, meaning a longer-lasting charge. While the researchers did not specify any early applications of the technology, it would likely first appear in Defense Department work. The project was funded by the Army Research Office, MIT said.

The group's work is expected to appear in this week's issue of Science.

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