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Power Biotech Technology

Yeast-Powered Fuel Cell Feeds On Human Blood 250

holy_calamity writes "Canadian researchers have taken a sensible, if slightly creepy, step towards solving the problem of medical implant batteries running down. They've built a fuel cell powered by yeast that feed on the glucose in human blood. If this makes it into people, keeping your implants going will be as simple as eating a donut."
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Yeast-Powered Fuel Cell Feeds On Human Blood

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  • Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @02:39PM (#27421717) Homepage Journal

    This is the ideal solution. Running a device off of the human metabolism is an excellent way to ensure that it functions for the life of the patient. Which is extremely important as implants are often put into older patients who may not be healthy enough for future operations. (I imagine this was the thinking behind the nuclear-battery pacemakers powered by SR-90.)

    What's funny is that my first reaction as I read the article was, "doesn't yeast produce wastes that are foreign and toxic to the human body?" And wouldn't you know it, the next section was entitled, "Waste problem". Guess they're reading my mind. :-P

    For instance, to keep the yeast cells healthy, their waste products will need to be removed without allowing any harmful substances to leach out into the blood stream. "I think people will figure this out. This is a first step," he says.

    I'm a bit concerned about this problem. Would this necessitate the installation of a shunt or some other extraction point for the waste? Seems like a fairly significant barrier to me. If you have to perform regular extractions (or worse, operations) is it really better than the current alternatives?

  • Re:'Creepy?' (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @02:46PM (#27421867) Homepage Journal

    Would you prefer implants to be nuclear powered?

    Yes, actually. [lanl.gov] I'd much rather have a shielded alpha emitter in my chest than a biological organism leaking toxic wastes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @02:47PM (#27421879)

    What happens when you get a yeast infection and need to take anti-fungals? Are these yeast going to be fungicide resistant, or are you going to have to replace the implant?

    Unless you could make the container impermeable to fungicides but permeable to everything the yeast need. Might not be possible depending on the fungicide.

  • Re:Waste (Score:2, Insightful)

    by conejo especial ( 1457763 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @02:51PM (#27421967)
    No the solution is to introduce something that consumes yeast waste. Ideally, its waste should also be an enjoyable snack for yeast cells.

    Seriously though, while it seems to raise a red flag at least partway, couldn't the solution be to pair the yeast with something that produces waste is not toxic to the human system, or to use GM yeast with harmless byproducts?
    Note IANA(Whatever-the-appropriate-letter-is)
  • by Cube Steak ( 1520237 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:05PM (#27422191)

    It might not put out enough waste that its immediately noticable, but what happens if this gets loose in someone with a weak immune system?

    I'm pretty sure anyone who has one of these things is probably going to get routine checkups from their physician to make sure the device is functioning alright. It's not as if they are just going to stick this in you and then just forget about it.

    They might ferment to death.

    No, they wouldn't. The amount of glucose a yeast cell consumes is extremely small and the amount of ethanol produced is as well (and would be metabolized faster than it could build up). We'd have to be talking about many magnitudes more yeast cells than are going to be in this battery to survive in your body for quite some time to actually have any detrimental effect.

  • by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:09PM (#27422251) Homepage Journal

      I don't know about managing blood sugar - that's pretty complicated - but one could certainly build an implantable glucose monitor using this technology.

      Yeast are thriving? Glucose levels are high. Dying? Low...


  • Sure, RIGHT. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by glindsey ( 73730 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:24PM (#27422517)

    You know, Slashdot could've gone the way of Wikipedia, which has a bunch of crazy entries on the front page which are actually truthful in some way (albeit usually misleading in a humorous way). Instead we get the usual "HUR HUR MICROSOFT RELEASES CP/M 9.2" bullshit.

    Oh, wait, what? This one is serious? Nah, can't be. I mean, you've cried wolf how often?

  • Re:Hey now. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:25PM (#27422521) Homepage Journal

      One can always introduce more nutrients into the body to compensate, if it becomes a problem.

      Your point about artificial symbiotic parasites is right on target. I think that's more likely to be the path we take in repairing body damage - destroying cancers and fixing cellular damage - than nanomachines are.


  • by rstanley ( 758673 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:29PM (#27422605)

    I can't take ANY story seriously today! I have been bitten too many times to believe ANYTHING posted today! ;^)

    Happy April Fools Day to everyone!

  • Re:Waste (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <slashdot@@@pitabred...dyndns...org> on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:40PM (#27422757) Homepage
    And then the gorillas will freeze to death?

    Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
    Lisa: But isnâ(TM)t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when weâ(TM)re overrun by lizards?
    Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. Theyâ(TM)ll wipe out the lizards.
    Lisa: But arenâ(TM)t the snakes even worse?
    Skinner: Yes, but weâ(TM)re prepared for that. Weâ(TM)ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
    Lisa: But then weâ(TM)re stuck with gorillas!
    Skinner: No, thatâ(TM)s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

  • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @03:53PM (#27422979) Homepage Journal

      No. I'm not senile. Not yet, anyway ;)

      Assuming we don't destroy our civilization first, eventually it's likely that a large portion - if not all - of the species will be 'infected' by biological nanomachinery. Think about it. If a large enough portion of the species gets nanobot implants, eventually they'll "infect" everyone. May be a good thing, maybe not...

      I don't know if you've read Varley's book Steel Beach, but if not, it's a must read when it comes to science fiction that deals with this sort of thing. Points out a lot of the downsides as well - and it's also a great read, easily the best Heinlein book I've ever read that wasn't written by Heinlein. Better, even.

      He points out that in order to survive massive amounts of pollution and disease, nanomachinery 'infecting' our bodies may be an absolute necessity for us to survive at all. I won't spoil the really nasty surprise that may await us if that happens... read the book :)


  • by Yogiz ( 1123127 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @04:26PM (#27423365) Journal

    Making machines able to survive on human blood. That's ingenious! What could possibly go wrong?

  • Gray goo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sidb ( 530400 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @04:33PM (#27423467) Homepage

    Introducing blood-eating yeast into a person's pacemaker? What's the worst that could happen?

    Oh yeah. Gray goo. I hope they've engineered in a lysine deficiency.

  • by sdjc ( 1038542 ) on Wednesday April 01, 2009 @05:13PM (#27423889)
    and it will all happen again!

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"