Things that kill you, hacked for clean energy

Tobacco and E coli can wreak havoc on your body causing serious damage if not death. Some researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have found a way to take these potentially dangerous organisms and make them do our bidding. By genetically engineering a virus they have shown that the two can be used to grow solar cells. Well, they grow some of the important bits that go into solar cells, reducing the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

Once a tobacco plant is infected with the altered virus it begins producing artificial chromophores that turn sunlight into electricity. Fully grown plants are ground up, suspending the chromophores in a liquid which is sprayed onto glass panels to create the solar cells. This types of creative solar energy production make us wonder if Thunderdome and the apocalypse are further off than we thought.

[Thanks Jon]


  1. Taylor says:

    2 men enter…one man leaves…

    Good to see that even the worst things can be turned to good uses.

  2. Brian says:

    Attack of the Triffids anyone?

  3. Dan says:

    Bust a deal, face the wheel…

  4. googfan says:

    i wish i had a SEM

  5. E-Coli is actually the bacteria that is in your intestines and helps to digest your food. The only problem is that if you ingest it (e.g. if a cow’s e-coli gets in some contaminated beef) it wreaks havoc on the first part of your gastrointestinal system.

  6. Bjonnh says:


    DIY SEM Microscope

  7. Bjonnh says:

    Sorry it’s a STM, but it’s just as fun !

  8. Fallen says:

    …What happens when this virus infects regular crops. Do smokers lungs then generate electricity…

    But seriously, what happens if it crosses over to a different species?

  9. CircuitMage says:

    Thunderdome may be farther off…but the Zombie Apocalypse is now closer…

  10. nubie says:

    Why do I suddenly want to see attack of the killer tomatoes?

  11. jamieriddles says:

    tomaco anyone?

  12. Bjonnh says:

    Georges please help…

  13. 36chambers says:

    If solar cells are already down to $1/WATT this is gonna make them go down even more.

    cheap solar cells here we come.

  14. tbase says:

    In Soviet Russia, genetically hacked tobacco smokes YOU.

  15. Nth says:

    This is good news!
    P.S. lol @tbase, comment WIN!

  16. Pat says:

    I don’t get why they’re trying to say that plants are *good* at converting light into energy. They’re pretty bad at it – much less than the typical 10-20% you get from commercial cells, and that’s just to chemical energy. The advantages to biologically created cells is that they’d be cheap, not that they’d be efficient.

  17. geeklord says:

    Hhhmm.. Genetically engineered virus? Sounds like I am Legend. Add that to the list of apocalypse theories.

  18. Jesse says:

    attack of the killer tomatoes, killer reference nubie!

  19. jeditalian says:

    item on left is growing in my windowsill, item on right is growing in my colon.
    windowsill is a really bad place to grow tobacco.
    two plants same kind. one in my garden, one in my windowsill. the one in my windowsill has small leaves like that one in the pic, the outdoor one has leaves way bigger than my head.

  20. bioguy says:

    brotip: Ecoli are used for this sort of thing all the time. They are the primary mechanism for most gene splicing type things.

    The section is short, and does not represent the importance of its role in molecular biotech.

  21. Mr. Anal Retentive says:


  22. Justin says:

    Just plant a tobacco plant in your ass and hey presto!!

  23. Mike Szczys says:

    @Mr. Anal Retentive: Thanks, fixed.

  24. Oren Beck says:

    OLED is a potential Patent interference here. As is the Paul Preuss story invoking a “Sloppy Disk” computer.Made of something even more horrific than E Coli.

  25. Ryno says:

    “The scientists haven’t even demonstrated that the cells can turn light into electrical or chemical energy yet. But they hope to do soon.” ~the last sentence in the article

  26. cantrip says:

    Excellent, your next bacterial infection may electrocute you.

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