What if you could own a computer with components built ‘biologically’? It looks like that dream could very well come true as researchers at Leeds University are experimenting on the bacterium Magnetospirillum magneticum that consumes nano-sized bits of iron and turns them into tiny magnets which it stores inside itself. The magnetic bits are similar to what is used in manufacturing modern computer hard drives.
If all goes well and technology permits, then we could soon see computer components being made out of these tiny creatures. According to team leader Sarah Staniland, the world is nearing the limit of traditional electronic manufacturing and it is time to look at what nature has to offer. Incidentally, looking towards nature isn’t a new concept but our technology doesn’t permit us to mimic the systems of living organisms effectively. As such, experiments such as these help us to widen the road to future technology.
The bacteria, Magnetospirillum magneticum, are found in pools of water that consist of various elements including iron. The bacteria extract the iron using a special protein and build small bits of magnetite, a highly magnetic natural material. The organisms use it to align and orient themselves with the earth’s magnetic field to help them go in search of areas with preferred oxygen levels.
The researchers at Leeds extracted the bacteria’s iron-producing protein and applied it to a gold surface in a checkerboard pattern. The protein-coated gold was then immersed in an iron solution. When heated, the iron gathered in the same pattern on the protein to make minute magnets like the bacteria do.
While the research is still in the initial stages, the experiment could pave the way for the making of ‘bio-computers’. To achieve a truly nanoscale computer, however, we would need tiny wires as well. This is where work done by Masayoshi Tanaka of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology comes in. The scientists constructed wires measuring just 40 nanometers in diameter, coated in a protein made out of artificial cells.