Image: Bacteria courtesy of Shutterstock

Today’s computers are rapidly becoming obsolete as society demands larger storage space and faster connections. However, the future of computing may not lie in technology, but in biology. Following the example of science-fiction, which has long theorized about bio-computers, a team from the University of Leeds has used a type of bacterium which ‘eats’ iron to create a surface of magnets – just like those found in hard drives. As the bacterium ingests the iron it creates tiny magnets within itself. These nanomagnets are then able to replicate the properties of iron outside the bacteria leading to potential bio-computers.

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The team, which is led by Dr. Sarah Staniland from the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy, are working with the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in order to create more environmentally-friendly electronics of the future. Currently, many of our computers and phones used rare and finite precious metals.

Dr Staniland said: “We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines we’ve traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales. Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to circumvent this problem.”

The bio-magnetic array was created by Leeds PhD student Johanna Galloway, which in turn created perfect nanocrystals of magnetite inside the bacterium Magnetospirilllum magneticum. The protein was then attached to a gold surface in a checkerboard pattern and placed in a solution containing iron.

When warmed up, the iron gathered on the protein in the same checkerboard pattern, essentially creating nanomagnets. The team believe it could be the first step in creating a bio-computer hard drive.

“Using today’s ‘top-down’ method – essentially sculpting tiny magnets out of a big magnet – it is increasingly difficult to produce the small magnets of the same size and shape which are needed to store data,” said Johanna Galloway. “Using the method developed here at Leeds, the proteins do all the hard work; they gather the iron, create the most magnetic compound, and arrange it into regularly-sized cubes.”

Here’s hoping the technology leads to faster, smaller and more efficient computers in the near future.

+ The University of Leeds

Via Discovery News

Images: University of Leeds, Collins110