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Biological machines

Autonomous sensor

Tecnociencia_221aDaniel BuenoEngineers at the University of Illinois have developed a new type of robot, measuring less than a centimeter, based on muscle cells that can be controlled by an electric current. The work was published on the PNAS website in June 2014. The tiny biological machines were made, using a 3D printer, from living cells and hydrogel, a polymer with a consistency similar to gelatin that retains water in its structure. In the past, the group of researchers headed by Rashid Bashir had presented “biorobots” made from heart cells extracted from mice. But the constant contractions of these cells made it hard for the researchers to control the robot’s spontaneous movements. This time around, the minuscule machines are powered by a bundle of skeletal muscle cells, which are activated by electrical pulses. The researchers want to integrate principles of engineering and biology to develop technologies for medical application. The technique can be used, for instance, to manufacture an autonomous sensor that is only activated upon detecting a particular chemical or a specific stimulus. This sensor would be able to detect a given toxin in the body, move towards it, and release a neutralizing agent.