Could your home one day be powered by patches of mushrooms? Probably not, but scientists have nonetheless created a “bionic mushroom” that does indeed generate electricity – and it may pave the way for more practical bio-electric systems.

Led by Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi, a team from New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology started with an ordinary, living button mushroom. They proceeded to 3D-print a branched pattern onto its cap, using an electronic ink containing graphene nanoribbons. Next, utilizing a bio-ink containing cyanobacteria, they 3D-printed a spiral pattern over top of the first pattern.

Shining a light on the mushroom caused the bacteria to photosynthesize, producing electrons which passed through their outer membranes. At points on the cap where the bio-ink pattern intersected that of the electronic ink, those electrons were transferred to a conductive network formed by the graphene nanoribbons.

The setup ultimately generated a current of about 65 nanoAmps. While that isn’t enough to power a device, it is thought that an array of the mushrooms could illuminate an LED. The researchers are now looking at ways of increasing the mushroom’s electrical output, and believe that their system may lead to methods of organizing other types of bacteria into arrangements that could perform functions such as bioluminescent lighting.

And in case you’re thinking that the scientists could have got the same results by applying the inks to any object … the mushroom reportedly supplies shelter, moisture and nutrients to the cyanobacteria, prolonging the life of the power source.

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