Navigation Links
These bots were made for walking: Cells power biological machines

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. They're soft, biocompatible, about 7 millimeters long and, incredibly, able to walk by themselves. Miniature "bio-bots" developed at the University of Illinois are making tracks in synthetic biology.

Designing non-electronic biological machines has been a riddle that scientists at the interface of biology and engineering have struggled to solve. The walking bio-bots demonstrate the Illinois team's ability to forward-engineer functional machines using only hydrogel, heart cells and a 3-D printer.

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 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 key to the bio-bots' locomotion is asymmetry. 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.

See a video at

The team uses a 3-D printing method common in rapid prototyping to make the main body of the bot from hydrogel, a soft gelatin-like polymer. This approach allowed the researchers to explore various conformations and adjust their design for maximum speed. The ease of quickly altering design also will allow them to build and test other configurations with an eye toward potential applications.

For example, Bashir envisions the bio-bots being used for drug screening or chemical analysis, since the bots' motion can indicate how the cells are responding to the environment. By integrating cells that respond to certain stimuli, such as chemical gradients, the bio-bots could be used as sensors.

"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," said Bashir, who also is a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of bioengineering. "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."

Next, the team will work to enhance control and function, such as integrating neurons to direct motion or cells that respond to light. They are also working on creating robots of different shapes, different numbers of legs, and robots that could climb slopes or steps.

"The idea here is that you can do it by forward-engineering," said Bashir, who is the director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. "We have the design rules to make these millimeter-scale shapes and different physical architectures, which hasn't been done with this level of control. What we want to do now is add more functionality to it."

"I think we are just beginning to scratch the surface in this regard," said graduate student Vincent Chan, first author of the paper. "That is what's so exciting about this technology to be able to exploit some of nature's unique capabilities and utilize it for other beneficial purposes or functions."


Contact: Liz Ahlberg
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related biology news :

1. Research on flavanols and procyanidins provides new insights into how these phytonutrients may positively impact human health
2. How old are these rocks, how were they made, and how long ago did these geologic changes happen?
3. Sunbathing helps these bugs stay healthy
4. Tortoise and the hare: New drug stops rushing cancer cells, slow and steady healthy cells unharmed
5. Stem cells can repair a damaged cornea
6. Scientists produce eye structures from human blood-derived stem cells
7. Study demonstrates cells can acquire new functions through transcriptional regulatory network
8. Epigenetic signatures direct the repair potential of reprogrammed cells
9. Researchers print live cells with a standard inkjet printer
10. Nanopills release drugs directly from the inside of cells
11. Protein jailbreak helps breast cancer cells live
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
These bots were made for walking: Cells power biological machines
(Date:10/29/2015)... Today, LifeBEAM , a leader ... a global leader in technical performance sports clothing ... advanced bio-sensing technology. The hat will allow fitness ... biometrics to improve overall training performance. As a ... bring together the most advanced technology, extensive understanding ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... 2015 Munich, Germany ... technology (ASGM) automatically maps data from mobile eye tracking ... , so that they can be quantitatively analyzed with ... Munich, Germany , October 28-29, 2015. SMI,s Automated ... mobile eye tracking videos created with SMI,s Eye ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... India , October 26, 2015 ... --> adds ... 2015 to 2021 as well as ... 2015-2019 research reports to its collection ... . --> ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/26/2015)... MUMBAI , November 26, 2015 ... --> Accutest Research ... accredited Contract Research Organization (CRO), has ... Chase Cancer Center - Temple Health ... ,     (Photo: ) ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... 26, 2015 --> ... 2016 - 2020 report analyzes that automating biobanking ... quality in long-term samples, minimizing manual errors, improving ... minimizes manual errors such as mislabeling or inaccurate ... it plays a vital role in blood fractionation, ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... , November 25, 2015 2 ... première fois les différences entre les souches bactériennes ... celles des êtres humains . Ces recherches ... et envisager la prise en charge efficace de ... diagnostiqués chez les chats .    --> ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... and HOLLISTON, Mass. , Nov. 25, ... HART ), a biotechnology company developing bioengineered organ ... Jim McGorry will present at the LD Micro ... at 2:30 p.m. PT. The presentation will be webcast ... days. Management will also be available at the conference ...
Breaking Biology Technology: