tech science energy microbiology bacteria renewable_energy robots electricity power
Spore Power: Wetting Bacteria Makes Electricity And Robot Muscles

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by Petti Fong

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.

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science tech 3_d_printing soil ct_scan x_ray microbiology ecology fungi bacteria computer_modeling

CT Scans And 3-D Printer Show World Beneath Our Feet

Researchers at Scotland’s Abertay University are getting a brand new look at the seemingly nondescript world hidden in plain sight—the soil beneath our feet. 

Using computed tomography, an imaging technique that takes virtual slices of a subject using X-rays, computer modelling and a 3-D scanner, the team is revealing the previously hidden complex structures of soil.

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tech science robots microbiology euglena miniature soft medicine health microbes movement
Soft-Bodied Robots Might Wiggle Through People, Enhance Strength

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by Charles Q. Choi

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. 

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science microbiology fungus bed_bugs parasite pest_control public_health infest
Bed Bugs’ Bane: A Fungus That Wipes Out Growing Menace

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by Karin Heineman, Inside Science

There has been a huge increase in bedbug infestations – in homes, hotels, dorm rooms and even movie theaters. Once a pest of the past, bedbugs now infest every state in the U.S. Many bedbugs are now resistant to pesticides, so getting rid of these pests is neither easy nor cheap.

Now microbiologists are using a fungus called Beauveria bassiana, a natural organism that causes disease in insects, against these blood-sucking pests. 

"One hundred percent of the bedbugs will die if they’ve contacted the fungus,” said Nina Jenkins, a microbiologist at The Pennsylvania State University.

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