Could the common brown garden snail you see slinking along the sidewalk actually be a military spy? Maybe some day.
Could the common brown garden snail you see slinking along the sidewalk actually be a military spy? Not yet, but such a possibility isn't far off in the making: Scientists are working on building "cyborg snails" that will be able to gather and transmit environmental and military intelligence back to humans on a base.
But the catch has been powering the data collection and transmission without encumbering the little buggers with battery packs. New research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society points to a solution: Evgeny Katz and his team at Clarkson University have implanted snails with biofuel cells that can extract electricity from glucose and oxygen in the snails' blood, Richard Van Noorden reports in Nature.
The technology essentially turns the little critters into living batteries with the capacity to provide power at a more or less steady rate over a period of months. "The truly impressive portion of [Katz's] work is that the implantation provides such stable potential for such a long period of time," says Shelley Minteer, a biofuel-cell researcher at the University of Utah told Van Noorden.