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"Viral Vrooom" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at MIT have shown that they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Bio-batteries and Viral Voltage. (SOUND EFFECT: hybrid car start)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

MIT researchers have created viruses that may one day work to help power our cars or other electronic devices.

As you probably know, batteries have a negative terminal and a positive terminal -- called the anode and the cathode. Three years ago the researchers built an anode using viruses -- but creating a cathode from them was tricky, because it has to be highly-conductive. Most of the likely candidate materials were highly non-conductive. The team solved the dilemma by engineering viruses programmed to cover themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes, to create a network of extremely conductive material.

The researchers have shown for the first time that it is possible to genetically engineer viruses to create the negative and positive ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The virus-built batteries are non-toxic and have the same energy capacity as the ones being considered to power new plug-in hybrid cars. The process of making them has no environmental impact, and can be done at room temperature without the use of dangerous solvents.

The viruses themselves only infect bacteria, and are harmless to humans. The team is now working on more powerful prototype batteries. Hey -- wire us to the virus.

"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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