March 16th, 2016
Biologically powered robots may one day be used to perform surgical procedures, deliver drugs, and maybe to even make humanoid overlords for us mortals. A big step toward that was taken by researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who used light-activated muscle cells as the power source to make tiny bio-bots.
The optogenetic technique published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences relies on genetically engineered mouse muscle cells that were made to contract in response to blue light. Rings of these cells were placed around a 3D printed flexible rods of different lengths between two and seven millimeters. When light was illuminated over the mechanism, the biobots contracted and walked in a certain direction. Various lengths and configurations were tried to achieve the best walking results. Moreover, the researchers were able to change the direction of the walking bio-bot.
The devices also seemed to do well maintaining their health, absorbing nutrients from the solution they were in to help keep the muscle cells alive.
Here’s one of the main scientists behind the project describing her work:
Study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Optogenetic skeletal muscle-powered adaptive biological machines…