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Bacteria make themselves silicon jackets

Now there really will be a bug in the hardware

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Researchers at the State University of New York may have taken an inadvertent first step towards workable bio-transistors, taking advantage of a bacterial strain's ability to convert light into electricity to create an optoelectronic switching element.

While trying to rid their clean rooms of bacteria, the scientists discovered that the bugs had stuck to molecules of a dissolved semiconductor in the lab's "pure" water supply. This behaves like a "seed" attracting other semiconductor molecules to the formation until the bacterium is encased in a shell of the material.

The discovery was made in the course of an investigation into a particularly hardy strain of bacteria that was contaminating the semiconductor and lowering the yield.

Director of the centre for biosurfaces Robert Baier explained to the EETimes: "When we started this study, we were just trying to find the source of bacteria in the fab, and how they could remain alive after all the heroic measures to eradicate them."

"These bacteria can cause a lot of problems in the clean room, like shorting out adjacent lines on chips, and inside these armoured shells they are almost impossible to kill," he said.

But what could have been an affliction in the lab, could pave the way to exciting new biotechnology. The researchers assert that if a photosensitive bacterium were to be embedded in a chip, this would form the basis of a bio-transistor.

Baier believes that the current flowing in a semiconductor can be controlled by the chlorophyll in a single cell. Light shining on photosensitive bacteria triggers the emission of an electron which could be used to switch a simple transistor.

"This is a new class of biochips which I believe can be adapted to many uses," said Baier. "At present it's at a primitive stage, like the crude crystal detectors that preceded today's radios." ®

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