What comes to mind when someone says the word “robot”? Do you think of a plastic shelled machine like Honda’s ASIMO, or do you imagine androids that are indistinguishable from humans?

Well, if your mind immediately springs to the android view of robots then this story might not come as such a shock.  Scientists at the University of Illinois have recently demonstrated a non-electronic biological machine capable of “walking.”

This machine, or “bio-bot”, consists of a hydrogel body & rat cardiac cells that are formed into an asymmetrical configuration that allows it to walk. “Resembling a tiny springboard, each bot has one long, thin leg resting on a stout supporting leg. The thin leg is covered with rat cardiac cells. When the heart cells beat, the long leg pulses, propelling the bio-bot forward.”

To make the body of the bio-bot, Professor Rashid Bashir, the U of I team’s leader, used 3D printers to accurately produce the hydrogel structure. By taking advantage of 3D printing technology, Professor Bashir’s group was able to rapidly adjust the “bio-bots” form. 

But what would a device like this be used for? According to Prof. Bashir, “The idea is that, by being able to design with biological structures, we can harness the power of cells and nature to address challenges facing society… Our goal is to see if we can get this thing to move toward chemical gradients, so we could eventually design something that can look for a specific toxin and then try to neutralize it. Now you can think about a sensor that’s moving and constantly sampling and doing something useful, in medicine and the environment. The applications could be many, depending on what cell types we use and where we want to go with it.”

Could this technology lead to vaccines that inject armies of chemicals ready to do battle with cancers and diseases into our bodies before they’re ever needed?

I’m not sure if that’s where the Professor is going with this project, but his idea is pretty impressive.

Read the Entire Article at the University of Illinois

 

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