In a move that could revolutionize electronics, scientists have created a biofilm that conducts electronic impulses.
With further development, electronic nanowires could one day form new classes of chips, fiber optics or power cables.
"We can now investigate a range of new conducting nanomaterials that are living, naturally occurring, non-toxic and easier to produce than manmade," said University of Massachusetts physicist Mark Tuominen.
Tuominen and his UMass co-authors, physicist Nikhil Malvankar and microbiologist Derek Lovley, reported their findings in Nature Nanotechnology.
The scientists believe their research is the first to observe a metallic-like conduction of an electrical charge in a protein filament, in this case a nanowire inside the bacterium Geobachter sufurreducens.
The team grew the bacterium on electrodes, where biofilms were naturally produced. Using genetically modified strains of the bacterium, they determined the electronic conduction came from nanofilms within.
Semiconductor makers such as Intel and Texas Instruments have experimented for years with so-called "neural networks," or electronics that can mimic the response of muscles and tissue in the body, with little success.
Tuominen suggested the new finding could speed the day when biofilms can be successfully deployed in mobile devices and other electronics.