Improving the performance of MFCs

Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) are bio-electrochemical devices that use the power of respiring microbes to convert organic matter into electrical energy. Realising the vast potential these cells have, scientists are finding ways to improve their performance and efficiency. In one such effort, scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay have demonstrated how stainless steel wool coated with conducting polymers could be used in microbial fuel cells to improve their performance.

In this study, researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, the use of low-cost stainless steel wool as an efficient material for one of the electrodes (anode) used in fuel cells. They found that using stainless steel wool resulted in a 70% increase in power density, as compared to when stainless steel tubes are used as an anode. Further, they observed that steel wool, when coated with conductive polymers like polyaniline, performed better than plain steel wool. With more suitable materials and efficient design, MFCs could be our solution to waste management with energy generation in the future.

Inner workings of a cell

Scientists have recently learned how to use light to control specific groups of neurons to better understand the operation of the brain. Researchers at Princeton University, USA have now applied a similar method to controlling the metabolism of a living cell. In a series of experiments, they used light to control genetically-modified yeast and increase its output of commercially valuable chemicals. The researchers have used fermentation and genetically-engineered yeast to produce other chemicals like lactic acid and isobutanol. In Nature, the researchers reported that they used light to increase yeast's production of the chemical isobutanol as much as five times higher than before.

Earthrise: The First Lunar Voyage

The first manned flight to the moon represented one of the bravest and most progressive actions ever undertaken in America's history. It was also fraught with breathless doubts, endless worry and the potential for tremendous calamity played out on an international stage. The inspiring documentary Earthrise: The First Lunar Voyage traces each step of this perilous history-making journey, and captures the spirit of a time when a nation and a world were united, and even the impossible was within reach. Narrated by Joe Morton, the documentary looks at the key players who helped to assure the eventual success of the Apollo 8 mission. To watch the documentary, visit

Like the other fish, but with a battery

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, USA have described a robotic fish called SoFi - like 'Sophie', but short for 'Soft Robotic Fish', in Science Robotics. They explained how their finned robot was created and how her first ocean swim on a coral reef outside of Fiji went. Robotic fish like her could be essential to understanding and protecting marine life in danger of disappearing in a fragile ocean environment, threatened by human activity and climate change.

This foot-and-a-half long robot mimics a real fish. She can swim in the ocean at speeds up to half-its-body-length a second and at depths up to 60 feet below the surface. SoFi has a battery that will last 45 minutes before she shuts down. Although critical for studying the ocean, remote operated vehicles and submersibles can be expensive to build and operate. Sleek, untethered, relatively inexpensive and well-tolerated, SoFi may provide biologists a fish's-eye view of animal interactions in changing marine ecosystems.

Identifiers in animal DNA

Individual members of many species also have unique genetic profiles. As with humans, a large number of variations in a relatively short sequence of DNA can make it possible to identify an individual and distinguish that animal from other members of the species. DNA fingerprinting is commercially available for dogs, for example, for purposes like identifying a lost pet. The approach is also used in wildlife research. It can, for instance, determine whether an isolated population of wild birds has become too inbred for survival. Scientists have also turned to genetic fingerprinting to identify individual animals that have been poached, and to determine where imported animals came from.

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