Bacterial Spores can lift cars?

First, I’d like to thank you for visiting my blog. Trying to become a specialist in two vastly different areas is a very daunting and intimidating task. However, I have such a passion for microbiology and the law both. My passion is what drives me and I hope to learn more and become a better scientist and a better (future) attorney.

Now…

Scientific Background:

A spore is like a shield, it protects the bacterium. When times get “tough” in the bacterial world a bacterium may form a spore. These tough times may be the result of a shortage in nutrients in the environment or harsh environmental conditions (too dry, too salty, too uncomfortable to grow). The spore allows the bacterium to essentially “hibernate.” In fact, the bacterium experiences very low metabolic activities and enjoys the shade of the nice hard, keratin shell it has surrounded itself in. Unfortunately, not all bacteria can form spores. Spore formation is reserved for gram positive bacteria because gram positive bacteria have a thick peptidoglycan wall, but gram negative bacteria do not have a thick wall. Basically, gram negative bacteria just don’t have what it takes! (Don’t worry, gram negative bacteria have their own tricks.)

So…

As I leisurely browsed Science Daily, I found a very interesting article, “Electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness power of evaporating water.” The first thing I thought to myself of course is, “I wonder if this is patentable?” The next thing I thought was “[h]ow does this work?” Let’s start with how it works.

How it works (a very simplified version):

According to scientist Dr. Ozgur Sahin, associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University, water evaporation is the largest source of power found in nature.* Essentially, Dr. Sahin and a team of other scientists are trying to use nature’s #1 power source to generate electricity.* No one has ever done this before. However, these scientists believe that they can usher in an era of renewable energy with the help of Bacillus subtilis, a spore-forming gram positive bacterium typically found in soil.

The experiments showed that when moisture levels varied, the spores shrank or expanded in response to the varying levels.* According to the article in Science Daily, the response was so dramatic that exposing a pound of spores to intense dryness followed by moisture created enough energy to lift a car!* Apparently this is due to a “humidity-driven force” that has more force than our muscles.*

The scientists are now contemplating genetically altering spores so that the altered spores can harness twice as much energy as the unaltered spores.* This discovery could change the face of energy as we know it, but is it patentable?

*The information about the experiment and its results is from Science Daily. Please read their article for more details, it’s a great read:

Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. “Electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness power of evaporating water.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127101242.htm>.

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