Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Microbial Robots in Outer Space!

NASA's Martian rover Curiosity is five times larger than its predecessors — about the size of an SUV — says Wired UK's Mark Brown. The energy needed to power it comes from a radioisotope power system. But researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory would like to develop rovers about the size of a bag of sugar, and as such, need a smaller way to power the machines, Brown says. Well, you can't get much smaller than a microbe. "Gregory Scott at NRL's Spacecraft Engineering Department has been awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts research grant to investigate the initial phase of tiny planetary robots that are powered by bacteria," Brown reports. "Micro-robotic explorers, powered by microbial fuel cells, could represent an efficient and reliable energy source on a planet without human intervention." Such a microbial fuel cell would use the bacteria's metabolic processes to harvest electrons, and then send those through a circuit to generate electricity. Some of the energy produced by the bacteria could be used to maintain the rover's electronics and controls, while the rest could go toward charging a battery or capacitor, Brown says. With a fully charged battery, the rover could be able to perform more complicated tasks. NRL's Scott plans to focus his research on anaerobic bacteria like Geobacter sulfurreducens, Brown says.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.