While the food we buy may look safe, it’s the bacteria that we can’t see that make it unsafe to eat.
This year, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning.
It can cause serious health problems. Washing and cooking food properly helps to prevent the spread of food-borne illness, but bacteria can still lurk on and inside food.
“It has many routes to get into not only food animal products but also things like leafy greens, and even processed foods,” said Paul Ebner, a microbiologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
If dry bacteria spores of the genus Bacillus were boxers, commentators would say they punch above their weight.
When they dehydrate, the rod-shaped spores— dormant cells that help the microorganism survive tough environmental conditions and are naturally found in soil and vegetation—shrivel or curl like a leaf. Add some moisture and they straighten out again. Studies have shown that they can absorb water and expand with remarkable force. Now scientists say this phenomenon can be harnessed to use the microbes as a potential source of renewable energy or as muscles to make superstrong robots.
In research recently reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, a team detailed how they smeared spores on a flat piece of rubber and created a bacteria-powered generator.
Miniature robots that imitate microscopic organisms could one day wriggle inside the human body to solve problems, researchers say. The soft, active materials comprising these machines might also lead to clothing that enhances muscle power.
Modern robots are generally built from rigid parts, which causes them to be vulnerable to damage from bumps, scrapes, twists and falls, and often makes it impossible to wriggle past obstacles. But researchers inspired by octopuses, worms and starfish that thrive despite not having hard skeletons are devising flexible robots from soft, elastic plastic and rubber. These can squirm under obstacles, lift up to 120 times their own weight and change their color to hide in or stand out from their surroundings.
As the work behind soft robots gets more mature, some engineers are also starting to explore the possibility of making them smaller. The hope is that such microrobots could play a role in healthcare — for instance, delivering medicine directly to where the body needs it, reopening clogged blood vessels or helping to seal wounds.