This unusual microbe, belonging to the Geobacter genus, was first noted for its ability to produce magnetite in the absence of oxygen, but with time scientists found it could make other things too, like bacterial nanowires that conduct electricity.
The wires are related to electrodes and perform electricity employing naturally present h2o vapour in the air.
A device that creates electricity "out of thin air" by using water vapour could replace rechargeable batteries in phones and smartwatches, developers claim.
"The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7", Prof Lovley said.
"It's the most incredible and exciting application of protein nanowires yet", added Professor Derek Lovley, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Working in the device's favour is that it is non-polluting, renewable, low-priced and flexible. This is because the Air-gen device does not need wind or sunlight, and "it even works indoors", unlike other forms of renewable energy sources.
All it needs is a thin film of protein nanowires. Researchers positioned a second electrode on top, only partially covering the nanowires.
Correct now, the Air-gen is only impressive ample for smaller digital gadgets, but its builders want to scale up. That would, theoretically, completely eliminate the need for periodic charging. "For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home", Yao said.
The scientists recently engineered a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce the protein wires.
Lovley discovered Geobacter sulfurreducens in the mud on the banks of the Potomac River some three decades ago.
The discovery of Air-gen discovery reflects extraordinary interdisciplinary teamwork, stated the research team. He was the very first to isolate the microbes applied in the protein nanowires from sand in the Potomac River that runs together the U.S. funds in 1987. "We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory", he says. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, Yao had worked at Harvard University for many years and designed electronic devices using silicon nanowires.
The lab has also been doing work on approaches to make the needed protein nanowires far more successfully using distinct germs.
Xiaomeng Liu, a Ph.D. student in Yao's lab, was developing sensor devices when he noticed something unexpected.
"I observed that when the nanowires ended up contacted with electrodes in a particular way the gadgets created a recent".
"A maintained moisture gradient, which is fundamentally different to anything seen in previous systems, explains the continuous voltage output from our nanowire device".
In addition to the Air-gen, Yao's laboratory has developed several other applications with the protein nanowires. Now, the researchers are seeking to bring their innovation to commercial scale.
Yao adds that the current applications are "just the beginning of a new era of protein-based electronic devices".