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"Bug Juice" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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An insect's internal chemicals can be converted to electricity, potentially providing power for sensors, recording devices or to control the bug, a group of researchers at Case Western Reserve University report.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: fly buzz) If I Could Just Be a Fly on the Wall.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Case Western Reserve University researchers have found a way to convert an insect's internal chemicals to electricity. They believe it may be possible in the future to generate enough 'bug juice' to power sensors, recording devices, or possibly control the bug robotically--a cyborg-bug.

Let's back up a bit. The process that could make sci-fi flies or clandestine cockroaches possible, deals with converting the insects' chemical energy into electrical energy. The team created an implantable biofuel cell that uses two special enzymes. The first breaks down sugars the bug produces after eating, into simpler sugars. The second then causes these sugars to release electrons. (Sound effect: sound of electrical current) Current flows as the electrons are drawn to the other side of the cell.

In tests, small electrodes were inserted safely into a cockroach, connecting the bug with a biofuel cell. The team determined enough electricity could be produced to power small sensors. The cockroaches took it all in stride. When the test was complete, most just got up and walked away. The team is now working to miniaturize the technology to allow the insects to walk and fly with the implanted fuel cell; giving us the world's first 'bug battery'.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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