Tiny "bio-bots" measuring about 7 millimeters long don't look like much of anything, but they're the product of forward-thinking research in synthetic biology at University of Illinois. The structure, which looks like a long, thin board and is printed on a 3D printer, is made of hydrogel and the leg that helps it move is covered in rat heart cells. When the heart cells beat, the leg is made to pulse and the bio-bot is pushed forward.
University of Illinois reports, "With an altered design, the bio-bots could be customized for specific applications in medicine, energy or the environment. The research team, led by U. of I. professor Rashid Bashir, published its results in the journal Scientific Reports."
“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,” said [Rashid] Bashir, an Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering. “As engineers, we’ve always built things with hard materials, materials that are very predictable. Yet there are a lot of applications where nature solves a problem in such an elegant way. Can we replicate some of that if we can understand how to put things together with cells?”
The researchers note that the bio-bot can be used as an environmental sensor, from sensing different levels of chemicals to sensing specific toxins. It can all depend on what types of cells the researchers use, and different forms that the bio-bot takes which would allow it to get to various areas or across difficult terrain, like stairs.
Rather than using biomimicry for nature-inspired design, this technology combines the natural with the synthetic to create a "bio-bot" that can be used in fields like medicine or environmental studies. Let's just hope the cells they use are grown in Petri dishes.
Watch a video of the bio-bot in action at University of Illinois website.