Hybrid Chips: Solid-State Device With Integrated Biological Cells
Columbia Engineering researchers have combined biological and solid-state components for the first time, opening the door to creating entirely new artificial biosystems.
(A biocell attached to a CMOS integrated circuit)
Illustration depicting a biocell attached to a CMOS integrated circuit
with a membrane containing sodium-potassium pumps in pores.
Energy is stored chemically in ATP molecules. When the energy is
released as charged ions (which are then converted to electrons to
power the chip at the bottom of the experimental device), the ATP
is converted to ADP + inorganic phosphate.
(credit: Trevor Finney and Jared Roseman/Columbia Engineering)
To build a prototype of their hybrid system, Shepard’s team packaged a CMOS integrated circuit (IC) with an ATP-harvesting “biocell.” In the presence of ATP, the system pumped ions across the membrane, producing an electrical potential (voltage)* that was harvested by the integrated circuit.
“We made a macroscale version of this system, at the scale of several millimeters, to see if it worked,” Shepard notes. “Our results provide new insight into a generalized circuit model, enabling us to determine the conditions to maximize the efficiency of harnessing chemical energy through the action of these ion pumps. We will now be looking at how to scale the system down.”
While other groups have harvested energy from living systems, Shepard and his team are exploring how to do this at the molecular level, isolating just the desired function and interfacing this with electronics. “We don’t need the whole cell,” he explains. “We just grab the component of the cell that’s doing what we want. For this project, we isolated the ATPases because they were the proteins that allowed us to extract energy from ATP.”
Science fiction fans no doubt are thinking about Philip K. Dick, who was fascinated by the idea of combing living cells and electronics. Consider the amazing swibble from his 1955 short story Service Call:
Patiently, the repairman explained elementary physics. "Swibble-culture is an organic phenotype evolved in a protein medium under controlled conditions. The directing neurological tissue that forms the basis of the swibble is alive, certainly, in the sense that it grows, thinks, feeds, excretes waste. Yes, it's definitely alive. But the swibble, as a functioning whole, is a manufactured item. The organic tissue is inserted in the master tank and then sealed.
(Read more about Dick's swibble)
I'd also include the Ampek F-a2 Recording System from his 1966 novel The Simulacra:
Nat Flieger reflexively poured water into a cup and fed the living protoplasm incorporated into the Ampek F-a2 recording system which he kept in his office; the Ganymedean life form did not experience pain and had not yet objected to being made over into a portion of an electronic system... neurologically it was primitive, but as an auditory receptor it was unexcelled.
(Read more about PKD's Ampek F-a2 Recording System )
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