Touted as possible first responders, insect cyborgs could be the research community's next big breakthrough. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University have discovered that an insect's internal chemicals can be converted to electricity - potentially providing power to sensors and recording devices.

Using an actual insect will likely prove easier than trying to create something insect-like from scratch, according to chemistry professor Daniel Scherson. "For that, you need electrical energy to power sensors or to excite the neurons to make the insect do as you want, by generating enough power out of the insect itself," he says.

Scherson and his team developed an implantable biofuel cell that uses a series of enzymes to convert the chemical energy inside an insect's body into useable power. Insects' open circulatory systems make the implants easy on their hosts, researchers say.

Next steps include making the fuel cell small enough to be completely implanted, allowing the insect to run or fly normally; investigating longer-lasting materials; and adding a lightweight, rechargeable battery. "It's possible the system could be used intermittently," Scherson says. "An insect equipped with a sensor could measure the amount of noxious gas in a room, broadcast the finding, shut down and recharge for an hour, then take a new measurement and broadcast again."

(Case Western Reserve University)