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The rapidly developing research field of organic analogue sensors aims to replace traditional semiconductors with naturally occurring materials. Photosensors, or photodetectors, change their electrical properties in response to the light levels they are exposed to. Organic photosensors can be functionalised to respond to specific wavelengths, from ultra-violet to red light. Performing cyclic voltammetry on fungal mycelium and fruiting bodies under different lighting conditions shows no appreciable response to changes in lighting condition. However, functionalising the specimen using PEDOT:PSS yields in a photosensor that produces large, instantaneous current spikes when the light conditions change. Future works would look at interfacing this organic photosensor with an appropriate digital back-end for interpreting and processing the response.
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Fungal photosensors
Alexander E. Beasley1,*, Anna L. Powell1, and Andrew Adamatzky1
1Unconventional Computing Laboratory, UWE, Bristol, UK
March 18, 2020
Abstract
The rapidly developing research field of organic analogue sensors aims to replace traditional semiconductors with
naturally occurring materials. Photosensors, or photodetectors, change their electrical properties in response
to the light levels they are exposed to. Organic photosensors can be functionalised to respond to specific
wavelengths, from ultra-violet to red light. Performing cyclic voltammetry on fungal mycelium and fruiting bodies
under different lighting conditions shows no appreciable response to changes in lighting condition. However,
functionalising the specimen using PEDOT:PSS yields in a photosensor that produces large, instantaneous
current spikes when the light conditions change. Future works would look at interfacing this organic photosensor
with an appropriate digital back-end for interpreting and processing the response.
Keywords: fungi, photosensor, organic electronics
1 Introduction
The world’s drive for sustainability dictates a need to develop ‘green architectures’, where buildings are made from
natural, recyclable materials and incorporate living matter in their constructions [26, 18]. Recent examples include
algae facades [19, 25], buildings incorporating bio-reactors [35] and buildings made from pre-fabricated blocks of
substrates colonised by fungi [31, 3, 8]. Not long ago we proposed growing monolith constructions from live fungal
materials, where living mycelium coexist with dry mycelium functionalised with nanoparticles and polymers [2]. In
such monolith constructions, fungi could act as optical, tactile and chemical sensors, fuse and process information
and make decisions [1].
Functionalisation of living substrates aimed at increasing their sensitivity or conductivity, or imbuing them with
novel properties, has been achieved before. Examples include: tuning electrical properties of plants and slime mould
with nanoparticles [15, 16], increasing photosynthetic properties of plants with nanoparticles [14, 12] and hybridizing
slime mould with conductive polymers [5, 10]. An important advantage of functionalising living substrates with
particles, and/or polymers, is that the substrate will remain functional, as an inanimate electronic device, even when
no longer living. Here, in an attempt to advance our ideas of living fungal architectures, sensors and computers,
we explore the photosensitive properties of the grey oyster mushroom with aim of designing and prototyping novel
organic electronic devices.
In the field of organic electronics, we can use organic material to replace sensors, such as photosensors [24, 29, 9,
17, 23, 36]. Organic photosensors are a potentially disruptive technology that lend themselves well to being tuned
for specific band absorption [28]. Additionally, organic electronics have the potential to self heal as the substrate is
a living material [7]. Functionalising organic compounds with polymers can create hybrid components that utilise
specific properties from the various individual compounds. For example, increasing the capacitance of a multi-layer
capacitor using photosensitivity [21]. Fungi have the capacity to readily transport polymers which can be used to
functionalise the specimen. Given these properties, fungi may be a useful substrate for the development of organic
photosensors and a digital back-end can be used to interpret and process the signal.
In recent years, there has been significant developments in the field of organic analogue electronics, particularly in
the development of organic thin film transistors [34, 11, 33], and organic LEDs [27, 32]. It is only natural, therefore,
that the progression of this field continues with the development of other key electronic sensing components, such
as the photosensor.
Corresponding author: alex.beasley@uwe.ac.uk
1
Figure 1: Experimental setup
Photosensors change their impedance as a function of the lighting conditions they are exposed to. The change in
impedance can then be processed by other circuit elements as a form of input. It is known that fungi are typically
sensitive to changes in lighting conditions. If exposing fungi to sudden and dramatic changes in lighting results in
a rapid change in the electrical properties of the fungi then this can change can be interpreted by other electronic
devices. The result is a hybrid electronics system that uses fungi as a photosensor.
The paper will explore the use of the fruiting bodies of the grey oyster fungi as photosensors and present the
implications of such an application when used in organic electronic systems. The rest of this paper is structured
as follows. Section 2 presents the experimental set up and Sect. 3 presents the results with discussion. Finally
conclusions are drawn in Sect. 4.
2 Experimental method
Samples of mycelium and fruiting bodies of the grey oyster fungi Pleurotus ostreatus (Ann Miller’s Speciality
Mushrooms Ltd, UK), cultivated on damp wood shavings, are explored for their photosensitive properties. Iridium-
coated stainless steel sub-dermal needles with twisted cables (Spes Medica SRL, Italy) were inserted approximately
10 mm apart in samples (Fig.1). An LCR meter (BK Precision, model number) was used to constantly record the
DC resistance of the sample. The sample was periodically covered or exposed to intense light (c. 1500 Lux, with a
cold light source PL2000, Photonic Optics, USA). Exposure to the high intensity light was in the order of tens of
seconds. Any changes in resistance were recorded. The container with PEDOT:PSS functionalised fungi was kept
in a fume hood for the duration of the experiment.
The I-V characteristics of the fungal substrate were measured using a Keithely source measure unit (SMU) 2450
(Keithley Instruments, USA). High intensity light was turned on and off during the course of the cyclic voltammetry
to observe instantaneous changes in conducted current. Similar tests were performed with a pure resistive load to
ensure no spiking effects were caused by the operation of high intensity equipment. Control conditions are given by
performing the same I-V characterisation with constant lighting conditions.
In the experiments on functionalised fruit bodies, 10ml of PEDOT:PSS (poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)
polystyrene sulfonate) (Sigma Aldrich, UK) solution was injected in the stalks the fruit bodies. The fungi were
rested for 24 hr to allow for translocation of them material towards other parts of the stem and caps of the bodies.
2
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-1
-0.5
0
0.5
1
Current [I]
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sample1 run1
sample1 run2
sample1 run3
sample1 run4
sample1 run5
(a)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
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-2
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0
1
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10-6
Sample2 run1
Sample2 run2
Sample2 run3
Sample2 run4
Sample2 run5
(b)
Figure 2: Cyclic voltammetry of mycelium samples (a) sample 1, (b) sample 2. Run 1 shows the response when the
sample is in the dark. Run 2 shows the response of the sample under continuous intense illumination. Runs 3–5
shows the response when the sample is subject to sudden changes in light conditions.
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-6
-4
-2
0
2
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Current [I]
10-7
sample1 run1
sample1 run2 sample1 run3
Figure 3: Cyclic voltammetry of grey oyster mushrooms. Run 1 shows the response when the sample is in the dark.
Run 2 shows the response of the sample under continuous intense illumination. Runs 3 shows the response when
the sample is subject to sudden changes in light conditions.
3 Results
Pure mycelium and fruiting bodies of the grey oyster mushroom (before functionalisation) were subject to cyclic
voltammetry in intense lighting conditions, darkness and to rapid lighting changes during the cycle — Figs. 2 and
3. Cyclic voltammetry of the mycelium specimen under instantaneously changing light conditions (runs 3–5 in
Figs. 2(a) and 2(b)) showed no notable change when compared to constant light conditions. Similarly, we saw the
same when comparing the cyclic voltammetry of fruiting bodies in Fig. 3. Runs 1 and 2 are from constant lighting
conditions and for run 3 the light was allowed to change instantaneously.
Cyclic voltammetry of fruit bodies functionalised with PEDOT:PSS demonstrates an appreciable response to
sudden and dramatic changes in lighting conditions. Figure 4 shows the I-V response of the functionalised fruiting
body with constant light changes. The plot is a typical memfractance response that can be expected from a natural
substrate [4].
In fruiting bodies injected with PEDOT:PSS, rapid changes in lighting conditions produced instantaneous
changes in the conducted current. Figs. 5 and 7 show the I-V response for the functionalised specimen, while
the light conditions are changing. Figure 5 has the specimen being subject to changes in ambient lab lighting
during the positive phase of the cyclic voltammetry between 0V and 0.5 V. There are significant spiking results on
the cyclic voltammetry curve, increasing the magnitude of the conducted current by approximately eight fold.
Figure 7 shows the same specimen being subjected to more extreme changes in lighting conditions. The I-V
curves continue to exhibit a number of spikes, where the spikes correspond to the point at which the lighting
conditions were changed. This is most clear on Fig. 7(a). Figures 7(b) and 7(c) do still demonstrate this spiking
response to the lighting stimulus, however the overall I-V curve has more noise which makes distinguishing the
response harder (SNR ranges between c. 5.5 and 1.3). The injected specimen was allowed to progressively dry
(Fig. 6) out as cyclic voltammetry was conducted. The drier the specimen becomes, the noisier the recordings can
3
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-4
-3
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-1
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Current [I]
10-10
(a)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-4
-3
-2
-1
0
1
2
3
Current [I]
10-10
(b)
Figure 4: Cyclic voltammetry of grey oyster mushrooms functionalised with PEDOT. (a) specimen kept in darkness.
(b) specimen illuminated with 1500 Lux light.
-0.5 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5
Voltage [V]
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
8
Current [I]
10-10
Figure 5: The fungus functionalised with PEDOT:PSS exposed to instantaneous changes between darkness and
ambient lab lighting conditions.
Figure 6: Dried fruit bodies and substrate colonised by mycelium. Areas of PEDOTT:PSS spillages out of stock
and substrate are visible as darker areas.
4
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-3
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10-9
(a)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
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(b)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-6
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
Current [I]
10-10
(c)
Figure 7: Cyclic voltammetry of fungi functionalised with PEDOT:PSS. Samples are periodically exposed to intense
light changes from darkness to 1500lux.
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-3
-2
-1
0
1
Current [I]
10-10
(a)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-1.5
-1
-0.5
0
0.5
1
1.5
Current [I]
10-10
(b)
Figure 8: Cyclic voltammetry of dried sample of grey oyster mushrooms. (a) Specimen kept in darkness. (b)
Specimen illuminated with 1500 Lux light.
become.
Dried fruit bodies located further, c. 25 cm, from the injection site of the PDOT:PSS were also subjected to
cyclic voltammetry. Figure 8 shows the response of the sample under the control conditions — sample kept in
darkness and sample exposed to light. The specimen had very poor conductive properties. Presumably this is due
to the fact that the injection site of the PEDOT:PSS was sufficiently far from the recording site that there was, at
best, only minimal uptake of the conductive polymer. However, sweeping the voltage did result in some change in
conducted current, although always in the pico-Amps range.
Cyclic voltammetry was then performed on the same specimen during intense changes in lighting conditions
(Fig. 9). Here, increasing and decreasing the light levels also resulted in an instantaneous spike in the conducted
current. However, this specimen was not as responsive as the specimen injected directly with PEDOT:PSS.
5
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-6
-4
-2
0
2
Current [I]
10-10
(a)
-1 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Voltage [V]
-3
-2
-1
0
1
2
3
4
Current [I]
10-10
(b)
Figure 9: Cyclic voltammetry of dried sample of grey oyster mushrooms. Samples are periodically exposed to
intense light changes from darkness to 1500 lux.
4 Conclusions
Fungi are known for their photosensitive nature, with research showing fungi can be more photosensitive than green
plants [6, 13]. Indeed, fungi rely on different lighting conditions to control their reproduction cycle. Fungi are
most receptive towards the UV end of the spectrum but exhibit photoresponses across the entire light spectrum.
Briefly exposing fungi to light can interrupt their current growth cycle, triggering other responses. The reported
photosensitivity of fungi inspired us to check if the fungi can be used as photosensors.
The cyclic voltammetry of the mycelium and fruit bodies specimens shows that exposing the test subject
to instantaneously changing light conditions has no discernible impact on conducted current when compared to
keeping the light conditions constant. Extreme constant lighting conditions (darkness or extreme illumination)
again has little to no bearing on the I-V curves for cyclic voltammetry. Under all conditions, the specimens exhibit
characteristic mem-fractance responses[4]. The lack of response to the stimulation with light might be due to the
fact that the biochemical responses required to initiate electric responses might take several hours and, therefore,
the length of recordings made here was not sufficient to capture such changes. This leads to us to conclude that
intact fungi can be not be used as immediate-response photoswitches.
Functionalising the specimen with a conductive polymer, in this case PEDOT:PSS, and re-performing cyclic
voltammetry yielded a photosensitive response when the light conditions change instantaneously. Therefore, in line
with previous research [22], polyfluorene and PEDOT:PSS photosenesing inks [20], n-Si/PEDOT:PSS solar cells [30],
by functionalising mushrooms using the conductive polymer PEDOT:PSS, we were able to produce a photosensor.
Furthermore, the spikes in the cyclic voltammetry were significant enough to be detectable by additional hardware.
Future work would be to develop the digital back-end that can be used to interpret and process the spiking response
of the mushrooms.
Acknowledgements
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
FET OPEN “Challenging current thinking” under grant agreement No 858132.
Author contributions
A.B. conceived the idea of experiments. A.A. and A.P. prepared the substrate colonised by mycelium. A.B.
performed experiments, collected data and produced all plots in the manuscript. A.B. and A.A. prepared manuscript
(wrote and reviewed all contents). A.P. reviewed manuscript.
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