Biological robots


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Researchers from the University of Illinois developed microscopic biological robots (bio-bots), composed of muscle cells and artificial skeleton printed on a 3D printer. The bio-bot consists of muscle ring derived from the mouse cell line which can be placed on a synthetic skeleton composed of two flexibly connected "legs". Technique called optogenetics which is commonly used in neurobiology was used to activate the muscles. In this method, muscle cells are genetically modified in order to produce a photosensitive ion channel (channelrhodopsin ChR2), which activates cells in response to stimulation by blue light. Therefore, when stimulated with light, the muscles contract and act as biological "actuators". Interestingly, as a result of multiple light stimulation, the strength of the muscle cells is increased, as with conventional exercise. By using optogenetics it was possible to selectively stimulate only a part of the muscle, and thereby control the direction of the bio-bot movement. In a previous project prof. Rashid Bashir and colleagues used electrical stimulation of the muscles, but the light stimulation has advantage of greater specificity, and is less harmful to the muscle cells. Currently, bio-bots look still quite modestly, but thanks to the rings structure of the muscles, they can be combined into larger units, and the light stimulation should allow to control even more complex bio-bots.

Video about the bio-bots:
Image credits: cooldesign
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