Are bacterial medical implants and smartphones the future?


There are apparently multicellular bacteria of one centimetre in length living on the seabed that can generate and conduct strong electrical currents. This discovery by a research team from the University of Antwerp, Hasselt University and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) may unleash a revolution in terms of material science, electronics and other technologies in the future.

The conductive fibre network in the cell walls of the 'cable bacteria', as they have been dubbed, is comparable to the extensive network of high-voltage cables and copper wires that are known for bringing electricity to our homes and offices. A number of other surprising properties also came to light. The fibres are microscopically small, are able to transport a charge efficiently over greater distances than had previously been thought, can tolerate extremely high electrical currents and have a never-before-seen level of conductivity, easily matching the newest polymers in flexible solar panels or foldable telephones.

Why is this discovery so phenomenal? All the biological materials we had discovered up to now, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats, are very poor conductors. Not so the fibrous structure in these cable bacteria. Who knows whether science will allow us to put a stop to the electronic waste mountain within a few years, by integrating biologically degradable components into our smartphones and other electronics, diagnostic and therapeutic devices or other applications? By all accounts, the prospects look hopeful.