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Electric eel inspires a shockingly good idea

Medicine@Yale, 2009 - Jan Feb


Health and science news from Yale

A marvel of evolution, the electric eel packs a 600-volt punch to ward off attackers and stun its prey. Battery-like cells in the eel called electrocytes are studded with ion channels that precisely regulate sodium and potassium, but the exact configuration of these channels is unknown.
In the November 2008 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, Jian Xu, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate in Yale’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and David A. LaVan, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, describe a mathematical model of the electrocyte based on studies of the eel done in the 1950s. Surprisingly, they then found that eliminating all potassium channels from the model resulted in a cell that produced 28 percent more electricity than the eel’s.
“Bio-batteries” based on this tweaked electrocyte could power prostheses such as retinal implants. “If it breaks,” says Xu, “there are no toxins released into your system. It would be just like any other cell in your body.”

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