Cyborg snail produces electricity

snail power
A snail with implanted electrodes connected with crocodile clips to external circuitry. Image credit: L. Halamkova, et al. ©2012 American Chemical Society

( -- First it was grapes, then cockroaches, and now snails have become the latest organism to generate electricity through an implanted biofuel cell. The process works similarly in all three situations: the electricity comes from a metabolic process involving the transfer of electrons from sugar (such as glucose) to oxygen. In the case of the snail, two electrodes from a biofuel cell are implanted into holes in the snail's shell, with the anode performing glucose oxidation and the cathode performing oxygen reduction. When the electrons flow between the electrodes, they produce an electric current.

But whereas the grapes and could generate electricity for just days or weeks, Evgeny Katz, a professor of chemistry at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, and colleagues have shown that the snail can generate electricity for many months at a time. And in spite of the in their shells, the live long, healthy lives.

“The animals are quite fit - they eat, drink and crawl,” Katz told Nature News. "We take care to keep them alive and happy.”

Cyborg snail produces electricity
Image credit: L. Halamkova, et al. ©2012 American Chemical Society

Although a snail's tissues and organs are bathed in blood, or haemolymph, it takes time to regenerate its glucose levels, which means snails don't generate very large amounts of power. For the first few minutes, the researchers could extract 7.45 microwatts, but this power decreased to just 0.16 microwatts during long-term, continuous extraction. The main cause of this decay comes from the local depletion of glucose at the electrode surface. Still, the snail's eating and resting could sufficiently regenerate its overall glucose levels, allowing it to “recharge” and produce sustainable electrical power.

These snails - as well as other potential electrified creatures such as worms and insects - could be useful for powering low-power devices, such as sensors and wireless transmitters. The US Department of Defense is funding cyborg research in the hopes of creating bugs that can gather information about their environment while crawling around. Researchers are also investigating medical applications, in which a patient's implantable could use his or her own blood glucose to power medical devices such as pacemakers.

In the future, the researchers at Clarkson University plan to electrify lobsters in the same way as the snails, with the hopes that the larger animals' metabolism could provide more power.

Explore further

Biofuel cell generates electricity when implanted in False Death's Head Cockroach

More information: Lenka Halámková, et al. "Implanted Biofuel Cell Operating in a Living Snail." Journal of the American Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1021/ja211714w

Implantable biofuel cells have been suggested as sustainable micropower sources operating in living organisms, but such bioelectronic systems are still exotic and very challenging to design. Very few examples of abiotic and enzyme-based biofuel cells operating in animals in vivo have been reported. Implantation of biocatalytic electrodes and extraction of electrical power from small living creatures is even more difficult and has not been achieved to date. Here we report on the first implanted biofuel cell continuously operating in a snail and producing electrical power over a long period of time using physiologically produced glucose as a fuel. The “electrified” snail, being a biotechnological living “device”, was able to regenerate glucose consumed by biocatalytic electrodes, upon appropriate feeding and relaxing, and then produce a new “portion” of electrical energy. The snail with the implanted biofuel cell will be able to operate in a natural environment, producing sustainable electrical micropower for activating various bioelectronic devices.

via: Nature News

© 2011

Citation: Cyborg snail produces electricity (2012, March 15) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Mar 15, 2012
so what's the potential outcome from this research? will they place electrodes in all of us to power electrical gadgets (matrix style)?

or maybe they are just doing it for fun?

Mar 15, 2012
I think we could get more bang by researching on electric eels.

Mar 15, 2012
I'm sure there are grade schoolers who looking forward to their own snail clock. I don't welcome the idea of keeping live animals as batteries, but I'm sure there are people who are ready to hook up dogs and cats rather than euthanize them... Sharks generate electric fields, so there's potential there. I welcome the idea of being my own battery, but I don't want any squiddies hooking me up to their stuff.

Mar 16, 2012
I'd have some resistance to this sort of thing, its unlikely it would induce me to power ahead given my limited capacity. My hero Volta however, if he was alive today, would currently have great potential to amplify this with the help of Georg Simon however he has also departed and has zero influence to conduct experiments...

Mar 16, 2012
you would use a living thing in this way? I'm reminded of the human battery concept from the matrix. How a-moral of these people.

Mar 17, 2012
Might be amoral, many see acceptance of this due to old testament ie. "dominion over nature" :-( Snails are eaten in many places in the world, stepped on by others without a second thought and killed as they damage crops.

Maggots are already used to eat away dying flesh in human wounds & effectively, unlikely they are allowed to progress to flies.

Likely to be better ways to generate power than worrying about these life-forms. Science is moving ahead very quickly. Synthetic Biology is well on the path to artificial life re cells at the least to generate power from all sorts of waste products, so reliance on glucose which is a useful food is likely to be sidestepped...

I'm not a believer in this dominion issue re old testament - its very egotistical and amoral but, its clear from many aspects that life is the extension of chemistry, evidence and experiment support this at an accelerating rate, we now rely on it significantly re food & medicine.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more