Monday, May 7, 2012

Magnetic bacteria can be used to make hard drives

Our electronic devices are getting increasingly organic. Scientists have been trying to make small components out of biological material, or even from whole living organisms. Especially bacteria are helpful when it comes to creating electrical components, such as the individual pixels in a screen panel. Now, it has been shown that special bacteria can be used to create new hard drives, that are supposed to be faster and smaller.

Scientists working at the University of Leeds and the University of Tokyo analysed a bacterial species called M. magneticum, named after its unusual habit of creating small magnets. It survives by consuming iron, which it metabolizes into a substance called magnetite: a form of iron oxide. By doing this, the bacterium creates a lot of nanoscale magnets, which arrange themselves in a special configuration, which scientists think is interesting for the development of 'bio drives' that can store digital data.
M. magneticum producing magnets.
By copying what the bacteria are doing, we can create these small magnets ourselves, by letting them 'grow' from the conversion of iron to magnetite. The process allows us to make significantly smaller components for hard drives, and the scientists claim it should also increase speeds. Using bacteria-derived magnets would be more effective, as the materials we currently use do not perform well on small scales, the researchers argue.

Additionally, the studies also yielded a new type of conducting wire, that can be used for electronics. It is also made from biological molecules, in this case from parts of the cellular membrane, normally used to keep the contents of a cell separated from the outside world. It can also be used for surgical devices, as the immune system will not attack the 'foreign' substances when put inside the body.

Bacteria continue to be our little workers for a variety of applications. We let them make all kinds of drugs, or other beneficial molecules, such as insulin. Basically, they act as little factories, but it is clear microbes have many more uses. It is interesting to see how much of our world will become organic, once we succeed in creating actual products from these discoveries.

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