First Microchip Powered By Biological Systems

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Columbia Engineering researchers have successfully harnessed a chemical energy-producing biological process to power a solid state CMOS integrated circuit. According to a study, this is the world’s first successful effort to isolate a biological process and use it to power an integrated circuit, much like the ones used in phones and computers.

To harness the power, researchers developed the system by using an artificially created lipid bilayer membrane containing ion pumps, which are powered by ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the coenzyme that transfers chemical energy between living cells. Plants create ATP by photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and it powers the mechanical work of living systems such as cell division and muscle contraction.

The scientists connected the lipid membrane to a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit, and the ion pumps powered the circuit.  According to a professor Ken Shepard, Ion pumps basically act very similarly to transistors. The one which was used is the same kind of pump that is used to maintain the resting potential in neurons.

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Using an isolated and artificially created biological component is a different approach to interfacing whole living systems with chips, which was done in the past with varying success. The key requirements now are to try to scale the system down, and to look for ways to manage biological decay.

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