Cyborg Snails Generate Electrical Power From Their Blood-like Fluid

By Veronique Greenwood | March 14, 2012 10:28 am

One of the snails in question.

Just a few weeks ago we wrote about scientists who’d manage to draw power from the body fluids of cockroaches. Now, another team has reported achieving a similar feat with snails: a tiny biofuel cell implanted in the creatures draws glucose and oxygen from their hemolymph (the snail equivalent of blood) to generate power. And a yet-to-be-released study, Nature News reports, will feature beetles as the carriers of these minute power cells. All of this tiny cyborg excitement can be traced back to a 2003 paper, in which scientists generated power from a grape. Importantly, all of these biological generators—except, presumably, the grape—survived and thrived after their operations.

Now, we’re not talking about enough power here to run your cell phone or electric car. The snail cyborg can only produce about 0.16 microwatts of continuous power, though it can rise to more than 7 microwatts for short bursts (your average lightbulb consumes 60 watts). But if developed further, such biological generation could eventually be enough for the purposes of the military, which is interested in tiny spies that can crawl into nooks and crannies of buildings or through rubble, for instance, and would only need to generate enough energy to send signals back to their base. It’s interesting to note that this is presumably the kind of power generation referenced in The Matrix, when Morpheus explains that humans are grown in vats so that power can be generated from their bodies. But not to worry: the scientists’ next target isn’t human. They’re now aiming for a cyborg lobster.

Image courtesy of JACS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology
  • Subcomputer

    This is quite interesting, I wonder how long it will take before we can have metabolism powered pacemakers and other prosthetics.

  • Cody

    That really bugged me about The Matrix; sure, humans produce power, but net we’re huge energy sinks, not sources. It takes a lot of energy to fuel our brains, so even if we assume the robots are just sustaining a fraction of the humans fed by other humans in their rapidly diminishing stockpile, they’d be much more efficient decapitated—plus they’d save all the energy they spent on developing and maintaining the massive simulation required to satiate those brains. In any case it is not a sustainable cycle.

  • Stephen Daugherty

    Cyborg Lobster. That sounds like a strange country ballad.

  • souhjiro

    As said on comment 2, yes, was far better the preproduction idea of The Matrix being a sort of neural net or global computer, using humans as chips, makes more sense the worth and expenses of mantain live and conscious(sorta) millions of human beings…

  • Jon

    The article quotes the peak power per snail incorrectly.

    The snails generated a peak of 7.45uW, not 7W.
    Likewise, the continuous power was .16uW, not .16W.

    So, several orders of magnitude less…

    • Veronique Greenwood

      Yes, fixed!

  • Mephane

    That really bugged me about The Matrix; sure, humans produce power, but net we’re huge energy sinks, not sources.

    The abysmally low efficiency of “humans as power source” is not at the heart of this conundrum. It goes even deeper: technically, all humans are solar-powered, too, only the ways the sun’s light has to go until it can fuel a human body are more convoluted than that of a photovoltaic panel + battery. The way the movies propose this kind of power plant would be a perpetuum mobile – humans produce electricity, die, their bodies are dissolved and the resulting liquid is used to grow more humans, while in reality the fuel is the light from the sun, captured by plants, stored in molecules that are then consumed directly by the humans or indirectly through a food chain of animals.

  • IW

    The explanation used in The Matrix referred not to electricity but to BTUs. There would be far fewer BTUs generated from just a head than there would be from a whole body.

    Whether Morpheus got the amount right (25,000 BTUs) depends, I suppose on what time period he was referring to for a given body mass and skin area. I understand the ‘average’ emission for adult humans is something in the 350 BTUs/hour range.

    But if this is the case, then one is forced to wonder why they used humans (especially given the evident problems associated with them, as Smith enumerates at one point) instead of geothermal energy!

  • Tomek

    The back story of the matrix shows there is a lot more depth to the machine-human interaction. As it generally goes, the robots had an uprising, but were peaceful. Humans tried to the quell them, so the robots established an independent nation. The humans attacked the independent nation, so the robots made a matrix to keep them safe. It is not so much about power generation. More on that at “Matrix Shorts” an animated short series filling in the gaps.

  • will

    Why not humans? I’d love to be able to burn off a couple of pounds and charge my cell phone with a plug in my arm.

  • Christopher

    Very interesting article. It is amazing how power can be generated from biological creatures.


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