Yes, you’ve read it correctly. A team led by Dr. Angela Belcher [Germehausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, MIT] published a scientific paper in latest edition of Science. This paper documents the development of a battery that doesn’t contain environmentaly-harmful components.

The battery itself is the same size as the ones you see in watches and on motherboards, and this prototype powers a single LED In order to create such a technology, the team of researchers focused on specific parts in the nanotube technology and genetically engineered a virus that can assemble a nanowire used as anode, thus completing the circle [cathodes based on viruses already exist]. The capacity of this new battery type isn’t 10x better than existing solutions on the market when it comes to performance: virus-batteries have the same energy capacity and performance as today’s state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries, used in standard and racing hybrid cars such as Formula 1, cellphones, notebook computers and so on. But, these batteries are radically cheaper to manufacture and contain environmentaly-friendly components and with synthetis taking place at room temperatures, there are no more heating issues which can cause batteries to explode, leading to multi-million battery recalls such as this one.

The viruses used in this project are a common bacteriophage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteriophage , which infect bacteria but are [hopefully, Ed.] harmless to humans. MIT’s quote describing the battery:

In a traditional lithium-ion battery, lithium ions flow between a negatively charged anode, usually graphite, and the positively charged cathode, usually cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate. Three years ago, an MIT team led by Belcher reported that it had engineered viruses that could build an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold and self-assembling to form a nanowire.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: MIT’s team created a virus that coats itself with cobalt-oxide and gold and then performs self-asembly to form a nanowire.

The paper itself was written by Yun Jung Lee and Hyunjung Yi, both graduate students in Materials Science and Engineering. They were guided by Dr. Angela Belcher, Prof. Gerbrand Ceder [Materials Science], Prof. Michael Strano [Chemical Engineering], Woo-Jae Kim [postdoctoral fellow, chemical engineering], Kisuk Kang [MIT PhD in materials science and engineering] and Dong Soo Yun [research engineer in Materials Science and Engineering]. Could this be the greatest discovery of 2009? We certainly hope so.