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- Eating Up Time: the Clock Carnivory Comes to Town
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|Eating Up Time: the Clock Carnivory Comes to Town|
|Written by Mina Ghosh, Illustrated by Mia Balashova|
|Monday, 07 March 2011 23:52|
Imagine this scene: you’re scribbling away, for once actually getting down to that five thousand word essay you need to do by 5.00pm. The remnants of last night’s takeaway meal are blooming with a cloud of noxious gas, and, despite the wise words of your Zoology lecturer, have spontaneously generated a tribe of flies. It’s 4.30pm. And you are certain of it, because your new clock has told you so. It has also conveyed the happy news that said tribe is now greatly depleted. Welcome to the world of the fly-eating clock – powered by the elixir of life itself.
This killer gadget was brought to life through the collaboration of designers at the most scientific of establishments – the Royal College of Art – and two Bristol inventors, Jimmy Loizeau and James Auger. Its set-up sounds like an artefact Blofeld ought to have as (cue a suddenly sinister tone of voice) back-up. A conveyor belt of sticky fly tape traps the Drosophila, for example, holds them in place, and then rolls on into the clock where the squashed corpses are scraped into fuel cells to be digested. Electricity is generated and the clock comes alive. Ding dong, the midge is dead, and you know how long you have until your supervision. Since the generation of electricity from E. coli by the botanist M.C. Potter in 1911, there has been not so much as a race, but a relatively steady saunter to harness the power of bacteria. These days, microbial fuel cells are being hailed in the environmental blogosphere as the new saviours of mankind, with their penchant for poop and messianic waste water cleansing powers extolled to the pearly gates.
In waste water treatment, microbial fuel cells are used to produce flammable biogas to be burnt for electricity. In the flesh-eating clock, the digestive process spews out spare electrons that can be sent through a circuit to light up that clock-face with numbers, before recombining with positive ions in the cathode. The only waste product is water. In short: clean, room-cleaning, pest-controlling energy. My green, mosquito-swatting self says, 'Oh yes'.
Japan got to the tissue-powered fuel cell in 2005 with a cell that ran on blood. It contained no toxic material, had an electron mediator based on Vitamin K3, and drew its electrons from glucose. This vampiric battery was offered as a way of powering electrical objects embedded in the body.
Of course, having a power-hungry clock that contains flesh-eating microbes at hand’s reach would probably require biohazard suits to make it to the catwalk first. As a vaguely Shinto-Buddhist biologist, I worry about the effects of this fly carnage on my domestic spider population, and my already rather bruised karma. On a more practical note, optimising the pH and temperature for these microbes would be more of a hassle than probably 99% of the population would be prepared to go through for the sake of keeping time.
The grisly company behind this guzzling gismo, however, have not been put off. Far from it, they have now designed a coffee table which preys on mice (ask no questions, get no nasty answers) and one with a robotic arm that steals flies from spider webs with the help of a video camera. If a clock isn’t your thing, then they’ve also got a lamp on offer that lures unsuspecting insects to a short, sharp death with a UV LED. Such technology could perhaps go a long way in boosting the agricultural sector of the economy, a politician desperate for green and ‘economically relevant’ credentials may point out, if pests in greenhouses could be enticed to walk their gallows.
Is there a future for flesh-eating cells? Will there one day be a new meaning for 'horse-power' when Top Gear mooches over sports cars? All we know is that time flies, and it's now five minutes until your supervision.
Mina Ghosh is a first year BioNatSci student at Emma, who plots the deaths of her gyp-room flies in her sleep.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 21:42|