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Researchers Take First Step Toward Human-Produced Energy

The work seeks to create electrical energy through tiny "motors" inside bacteria.

Can you imagine powering your phone with your own body? How about your laptop?

Researchers are saying that humans may one day be able to generate their own electrical energy through tiny "motors" inside bacteria. More specifically these rotational motors are called V1 and they are the key that may make human-produced energy a reality.

RELATED: BRICKS MADE OUT OF HUMAN URINE COULD BE THE FUTURE OF CONSTRUCTION 

A rotary molecular motor

"Energy conversion efficiency of rotary molecular motors is much higher than that of human-made motors," said Ryota Iino, paper author and researcher with the Institute for Molecular Science of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences and the Department of Functional Molecular Science in the School of Physical Sciences at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies.

"And energy conversion by rotary molecular motor is reversible. If we completely understand the mechanism, it will lead to the realization of highly efficient, human-made motors in the future."

In their work, the researchers used a gold nanoparticle probe to observe a single molecule purified from the bacteria Enterococcus hirae. They sought to determine how its motor rotated for different sections.

What they found was that the motor behaved like a molecular pump. It needed to take some input of energy to produce more energy to transport ions against the gradient of the bacterial membrane. 

"We started out by working to understand how chemical energy is converted to the mechanical rotation of the V1 motor," Iino said. "We found that while the three-dimensional structures of V1 and related rotary motors are similar, their chemical and mechanical coupling mechanisms are very different, suggesting that cellular functions dictated the evolution of different functional mechanisms."

The V1 motor was found to form a complex with another rotary motor called Vo. These motors could then pump sodium ions across the cellular membrane creating energy in the process. 

Just like eels

"Next, we would like to understand exactly how the energy conversion mechanism of the motor complex works," Iino said.

This is important because it is similar to how electric eels produce their electric energy from chemical energy.

"If we can fully understand this mechanism, it may be possible to develop a battery capable of the energy conversion to implant in an artificial electric eel or even in a human," Iino said.

The study is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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