Yale University researchers have created a blueprint for artificial cells that are more powerful and efficient than the natural cells they mimic. The energy-generating artificial cells could one day power medical implants and provide a big advantage over battery-operated devices.
The scientists began with the question of whether an artificial version of the electrocyte - the energy-generating cells in electric eels - could be designed as a potential power source. "The electric eel is very efficient at generating electricity," said Jian Xu, a postdoctoral associate in Yale's Department of Chemical Engineering. Xu and former Yale assistant professor of mechanical engineering David LaVan designed an artificial cell that could replicate the electrocyte's energy production.
The cell LaVan and Xu modeled can produce 28 percent more electricity than the eel's own electrocyte, with 31 percent more efficiency in converting the cell's chemical energy into electricity. "We wanted to see if nature had already optimized the power output and energy conversion efficiency of this cell," said Xu. "And we found that an artificial cell could actually outperform a natural cell, which was a very surprising result."