In what may well be a huge breakthrough, electrons have successfully been transferred across a cell membrane to an external acceptor along a defined path. Cell membranes are uncooperative things, and this is a major achievement.
To do this, you “grow the connections out of the cell” using the DNA template to create a clone of the conduit. It’s that easy. It also means that billions of these types of connections can be created.
Using conduits cloned from a bacteria which has evolved a mechanism for direct charge transfer to minerals, Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, the Berkeley team transferred the new genetic setup to a version of E. coli, and discovered it could break down iron and iron oxide nano particles.
This is no mere academic exercise, as Science Daily explains:
"This recent breakthrough is part of a larger Department of Energy project on domesticating life at the cellular and molecular level. By directly interfacing synthetic devices with living organisms, we can harness the vast capabilities of life in photo- and chemical energy conversion, chemical synthesis, and self-assembly and repair," said Jay Groves, a faculty scientist at Berkeley Labs and professor of chemistry at University of California, Berkeley.
The fact is that biological use of energy is also extremely efficient. The human brain operates on an average of about 14 micro volts. (If yours doesn’t, see your local supplier for a refund or exchange.) Most industrial processes imitate Nature, very badly and inefficiently, just on a larger, clumsier scale, particularly in relation to energy efficiency.
The net effect of this discovery is relative to other developments in technology. About ten years ago, electrical circuits were successfully grown using DNA. Self assembling nano machines and components have now been under development for almost as long. Photosynthesis has recently been duplicated in the lab, too, so this discovery is particularly timely for the current state of the technology.
The important thing about membrane penetration is that electrical circuitry is based on a series of systemic steps involving management of the electricity’s functions and operations, conducted in things like capacitors, resistors, etc. This works fine on ultra-inefficient massive voltages, but for true energy efficiency, these functions need to be scaled down, not up. At cellular level, cell “batteries” like mitochondria are local energy sources.
The potentials are enormous. A thing like a synapse in the human brain is perfectly capable of creating multiple values using those 14 micro volts, including multi-level logic, art, and science in a membrane-based bio electrical environment some people optimistically refer to as a brain. Neural impulses travel at about 700 meters a second, thousands of times faster than necessary, flawlessly, through both the brain and the autonomic nervous system. Sound a little more efficient than the average 3 point plug?
We’ve got a lot to learn about this sort of technology, and this is starting to look like where we start learning. Stick around, folks, this is going to be interesting. Don’t be surprised if your next computer comes in a seed packet.