The next time you store data in your computer you could be storing them in hard drives made up of living organisms. Researchers are developing magnet-making microbes that could build the biological computers of the future.
A team of researchers from the United Kingdom's University of Leeds and Japan's Tokyo University of Technology have conducted research on an aquatic microbe that eats iron. As the microbe ingests iron, it creates a tiny magnet inside itself, similar to the magnets found in computer hard drives.
The tiny microbes could be the solution to the problem that's facing the tech industry. Consumers want smaller gadgets but building on a smaller scale requires developing nanoscale components. Researchers are now turning to nature to provide the inspiration and even the solution for computer components that can be as small as a pinhead but with double the capacity of current components.
"We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines we've traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales. Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to circumvent this problem," said Dr. Sarah Staniland from the University of Leeds' School of Physics and Astronomy.
The team found that developing the environmentally- friendly electronics of the future could lie with the bacterium Magnetospirillum magnetic, which is usually found in ponds and lakes and swims along the Earth's geomagnetic field. After ingesting iron the bacterium could internally produce tiny crystals of magnetite, the most magnetic material on the planet. The research team replicated the method the bacterium uses to create magnets inside itself and applied it to the outside of the cell wall, making the magnetic material available for help in building future hard drives.
The team is now working to reduce the size of the clumps of magnets to make arrays of single nanomagnets. After the team has reduced the clumps to single magnets, the nanomagnets will be able to hold one bit of information or eight terabits per square inch.
The team's study is published in the scientific journal Small.
To contact the editor, e-mail: