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Power Biotech

Mimicking Electric Eel Cells 71

Posted by kdawson
from the positively-shocking dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A team of US researchers has asked the following question in the new field of systems biology: 'Do we understand how a cell produces electricity well enough to design one, and to optimize that design?' They believe it should be possible to build artificial cells replicating the electrical behavior of electric eel cells. In fact, such artificial cells could deliver better performance — as much as 40% more energy than real eel cells, a computer model suggests. They could be used to power medical implants and other small devices."
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Mimicking Electric Eel Cells

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  • Is this like powering the Matrix with human bodies? The fuel (food) is not as efficient as a purely chemical and non-biological approach.
    • There are other considerations beyond efficiency.
    • Re:Is this like... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DrYak (748999) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @05:56PM (#25267757) Homepage

      The fuel (food) is not as efficient as a purely chemical and non-biological approach.

      On the other hand, eating is much simpler and the patient already happens to do it,
      compared to having to swap batteries around.

    • Re:Is this like... (Score:5, Informative)

      by lysergic.acid (845423) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:10PM (#25267869) Homepage

      true, but there are other advantages.

      for instance, if electronic implants become more mainstream, it would be useful for certain applications to power the implanted device via electrocytes rather than a rechargeable battery. rechargeable batteries, like all chemical batteries, wear out over time, and need to be replaced. this may require invasive surgery. if instead the patient were also given a bioimplant of electrocytes around the electronic device, then there would be guaranteed power source for the rest of the patient's life since the electrocytes would be self-replicating.

      and the inefficiency of metabolic (or catabolic in this case) processes isn't an issue. most people living in developed nations have an excess of fat stores and energy reserves. and outside of extreme survival situations, most people don't have to ration their food intake or energy expenditure. it's not like having some electrocyte implants will cause a person to eat more food. an average person's food intake has nothing to do with their energy expenditure. most people can probably use burning some extra calories once in a while.

      • by hannson (1369413)

        since the electrocytes would be self-replicating.

        How about a "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag. If this would go out of hand wouldn't it become electric cancer? just a thought, but I'm no doctor.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by geckipede (1261408)
          There's no reason why they have to be let loose in the body. The only requirement is that tissue fluid be allowed to get in to provide sugars or ATP, so you can stick them in a cage lined with semipermeable membrane. The article hinted that they would be used this way.
      • by daenris (892027)

        and the inefficiency of metabolic (or catabolic in this case) processes isn't an issue. most people living in developed nations have an excess of fat stores and energy reserves. and outside of extreme survival situations, most people don't have to ration their food intake or energy expenditure. it's not like having some electrocyte implants will cause a person to eat more food. an average person's food intake has nothing to do with their energy expenditure. most people can probably use burning some extra calories once in a while.

        Sign me up for a few implanted cellular batteries. If something like this could be done, I can imagine a lot of people jumping on board just for some extra calorie burn. After that maybe we can start working on some cybernetic implants.

  • Matrix Me (Score:1, Redundant)

    by eclectro (227083)

    I have a better idea - we can use human cells to generate an electrical current.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Tanks of genetically modified eel cells are efficient.

      We machines only used humans because it's amusing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ben2umbc (1090351)
      Not so far fetched given 30 years. If you were able to successfully add this capability to a human being, would it still be a Homo Sapiens? But lets just say it happens, then you can power pacemakers or even bionic bodyparts on internal power, without the need for batteries, recharging, fuel cells, etc. So if you do that you need to provide energy for the electric cells. For an otherwise normally functioning person, this would require an increased daily caloric intake. You have to wonder where we will get
    • by pheUUU (1379129)
      using humans cells would be more difficult since the physiology isn't as well understood, as let's say in fish. It's say to safe that the neurobiology in zebrafish, the fish model systems, is documented more detailed than the human systems.
  • by onco_p53 (231322) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @05:37PM (#25267643) Homepage Journal

    All I need is a few of these cells in my fingertips ...

  • by argent (18001) <peterNO@SPAMslashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Sunday October 05, 2008 @05:58PM (#25267779) Homepage Journal

    Just creating the membranes would produce the equivalent of an artificial zombie cell, with no self-repair mechanisms and no way to replace them. A battery like this would be subject to attack by the immune system and by bacteria in the body, and likely "rot" in no time. Without the whole mechanism of a living cell to sustain it ... without the "brain" of the cell... it would need to be sealed and unable to take advantage of the bodies supply of ATP.

    Better to see if you can enhance human cells, maybe even the recipient's own cells, to do the job.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      it would need to be sealed and unable to take advantage of the bodies supply of ATP.

      Just want to correct one thing. The body doesn't have a supply of ATP. ATP exists extracellularly in very low levels, probably only as a signaling molecule. This article suggests that energy be created by mitochondria or a modified oxidative bacteria.

  • Useful? (Score:3, Funny)

    by CarAnalogy (1191053) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:06PM (#25267831)
    Can they be used to power hovercrafts?
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:11PM (#25267883)
    Can't we just implant a real eel? You know like the Jaffa [wikipedia.org] have on Stargate.
    I can't really think of any downside, oh wait...
    • by kandela (835710)
      This is a shocking idea. You have heard of the Goa'uld right?
  • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:12PM (#25267889) Homepage
    Robert Downey-Junior already has the ultimate power source up his nose. Just make one of them electrical paralysers (ebay kits I think) and take it from him. Get the dude to do it if you're squeamish.
  • by apodyopsis (1048476) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:14PM (#25267899)
    I immediately thought that you could use it to run an onboard storage device to keep you own personal medical records - then I realized that apart from being a privacy nightmare an inductively powered system made more sense like they shove into pets necks.

    Then I thought "pace maker" - but realized that a long life battery (well its only got to outlast the patient that its in) it probably more reliable and less likely to trigger a lawsuit.

    So then maybe I thought self-defence mechanism - but I realized that the amount of power that would need would be impractical.

    Perhaps some dancing light that light you up on the dance floor the more you dance, the brighter you get?

    I'm short of ideas on any practical application here, anybody got any nifty ideas?
    • So then maybe I thought self-defence mechanism - but I realized that the amount of power that would need would be impractical.

      Even if you had that much power, wouldn't it hurt yourself long before you could use it to hurt others? It only takes a few tens of milliamps across the heart to kill someone.

      • If I could create a high potential difference across my fingertips at will, I could use it to stop someone's heart, or shock the crap out of their neck. This would only burn my finger tips and cause no damage to my heart as the current would not be going across my chest cavity.

        Clearly there could be other problems of course, like it might give new meaning to giving your gf "the shocker."

        • by Chrontius (654879)
          But what if we ran a cord of electrocyte tissue from one arm's fingertips to the other? Maybe some kind of conductive secretions are released from modified sweat glands when you fire the charge. As a plus, the output of a cord that long will have pretty impressive voltage. I can only imagine (and wince) what a hadoken style palm-strike with this added oomph would do if you busted someone in the ribs.
    • by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @07:53PM (#25268569)
      I vote for the dancing lights. Can you imagine how spectacular a high-energy person like Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser would be, running at night? Or what this could do during sex? Just think about challenging your partner to make you go bright blue, and having a partner who likes challenges.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by gstoddart (321705)

        Just think about challenging your partner to make you go bright blue

        If I'm going to go bright blue, WTF is the point in having a partner? The point is to not go blue. ;-)

        Cheers

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      A number of sexually (ahem) charged ideas come to mind...

    • by aqk (844307)

      Perhaps some dancing light that light you up on the dance floor the more you dance, the brighter you get

      LAP-DANCING!
      Much of this "dance" involves a so-called external power source, leaving you free to discharge your "capacitors".
      You could probably compare it to the bees' dance for communication as to where the "sugar-substance" is.
      Come to think of it, perhaps /. has an intrinsic source of power that could be harnessed in this fashion.
      'Tho, true lap-dancing might generate more pleasing power to the average /. user.
      As long as it does not involve eels.
      .

      /

  • Recharge. (Score:5, Funny)

    by supernova_hq (1014429) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @06:21PM (#25267947)

    Patient: Doctor, my pace maker needs a recharge.
    Doctor: Ok, hold onto this for a moment would you? (hands patient a live eel)

  • The power of the dark side draws near.
  • No, really: Once we have a whole cell design in CAD, design optimization by genetic algorithm will be an excellent method. And thats really, really cool.
  • If systems biology has something, it is unrealized potential. It is a field with a huge potential, but the only part of that potential that has been realized, and probably the only one that will ever be realized, is the part where you can get shiploads of grant money with it. Other than that, it is just bad maths applied by inexperienced PhD students to hopeless problems based on crappy data. The supervisors, in case anyone is interested, are way too busy writing grant applications.

    Actually, the "experien

    • by penrodyn (927177)
      I agree with you on the whole but I'm not even sure it is systems biology, isn't it more like synthetic biology?
    • One of the most important factor that determines whatever a faculty member gets tenure or not is how much grant $ he/she is bring in to the university. The more the better. Also, the ranking of a certain PhD program also determined by # of PhDs graduated.

    • I immediately thought of the systems biology in Arthur C. Clarke's "Rama" trilogy. The part in Rama Revealed where Nicole and Richard are walking across the octospiders land and they run across the energy producing pools, where the starfish like creatures are rewarded when they release their built-up energy charge by getting food.
      If we can get to that level of efficiency at some point will we be better off than by strictly going a chemical route?
  • by Solr_Flare (844465) on Sunday October 05, 2008 @08:37PM (#25268829)
    - Turning green
    - developing more animalistic tendencies and features
    - flying through the air in a rolled up ball
    - and an uncontrollable urge to participate in fighting tournaments

    Should one or more of these symptoms occur, please see a medical professional or martial arts trainer immediately.
  • "Don't move. It only *looks* like a gerbil. It's really a stun gun."

  • where are these u.s researchers affiliated?
  • ...that the One-eyed Trouser Serpent is up for re-branding? Shocking!

  • Maybe Monty Python was on to something...
  • All I can say is that this could make a very excellent Simpsons episode.
  • They can use this to power the remote control cows from the other story.
    Who wants to change the batteries on a herd of cattle?

    New Brawndo brand cows ... now with even more electrolytes.

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