Many a science fiction film features a character – hero or villain, depending on the author – that is a man-machine hybrid, whose biological systems are somehow fused with mechanical parts, as if one cohesive being. Researchers at Columbia University have announced a major breakthrough in technology that could lead us in that very direction. The team figured out how to utilize the molecular machinery of living systems to power an integrated circuit. Unlike any that came before it, this newly created chip is powered by biological functions that are actually part of the functioning electronics, rather than a separate component in a larger system.

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The science behind the bio-powered circuit is revolutionary. Researchers figured out how to integrate a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-powered ion pumps. Simple, right? ATP is the stuff that, in living organisms, transports energy from where it is generated to where it needs to be consumed. Here, it works the same way.

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“In combining a biological electronic device with CMOS, we will be able to create new systems not possible with either technology alone,” said study leader professor Ken Shepard, who also heads the Bioelectronic Systems Lab at Columbia University’s Department of Electronic Engineering.

There have been other bio-powered circuits before, typically where energy is collected from an entire living system (think algae-powered lamps and such). The Columbia finding is considered a breakthrough discovery because it focuses on energy transfer on a molecular level, rather than cellular, and works to integrate an isolated function into the electronics. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Via Times of India

Images via Shutterstock and Trevor Finney and Jared Roseman/Columbia Engineering