Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Muscle-powered bio-bots walk on command


A new generation of miniature biological robots is flexing its muscle.

Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated a class of walking “bio-bots” powered by muscle cells and controlled with electrical pulses, giving researchers unprecedented command over their function. The group published its work in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Tiny walking “bio-bots” are powered by muscle cells and controlled by an electric field.

Graphic by Janet Sinn-Hanlon, Design Group@VetMed

“Biological actuation driven by cells is a fundamental need for any kind of biological machine you want to build,” said study leader Rashid Bashir, Abel Bliss Professor and head of bioengineering at the U. of I.  “We’re trying to integrate these principles of engineering with biology in a way that can be used to design and develop biological machines and systems for environmental and medical applications. Biology is tremendously powerful, and if we can somehow learn to harness its advantages for useful applications, it could bring about a lot of great things.”

Bashir’s group has been a pioneer in designing and building bio-bots, less than a centimeter in size, made of flexible 3-D printed hydrogels and living cells. Previously, the group demonstrated bio-bots that “walk” on their own, powered by beating heart cells from rats. However, heart cells constantly contract, denying researchers control over the bot’s motion. This makes it difficult to use heart cells to engineer a bio-bot that can be turned on and off, sped up or slowed down.

... more about:
»3-D »Biology »Laboratory »Technology »native »signals »skeletal »specific »walk

The new bio-bots are powered by a strip of skeletal muscle cells that can be triggered by an electric pulse. This gives the researchers a simple way to control the bio-bots and opens the possibilities for other forward design principles, so engineers can customize bio-bots for specific applications.

“Skeletal muscles cells are very attractive because you can pace them using external signals,” Bashir said. “For example, you would use skeletal muscle when designing a device that you wanted to start functioning when it senses a chemical or when it received a certain signal. To us, it’s part of a design toolbox. We want to have different options that could be used by engineers to design these things.”

The design is inspired by the muscle-tendon-bone complex found in nature. There is a backbone of 3-D printed hydrogel, strong enough to give the bio-bot structure but flexible enough to bend like a joint. Two posts serve to anchor a strip of muscle to the backbone, like tendons attach muscle to bone, but the posts also act as feet for the bio-bot.

A bot’s speed can be controlled by adjusting the frequency of the electric pulses. A higher frequency causes the muscle to contract faster, thus speeding up the bio-bot’s progress as seen in this video.

“It's only natural that we would start from a bio-mimetic design principle, such as the native organization of the musculoskeletal system, as a jumping-off point,” said graduate student Caroline Cvetkovic, co-first author of the paper. “This work represents an important first step in the development and control of biological machines that can be stimulated, trained, or programmed to do work. It's exciting to think that this system could eventually evolve into a generation of biological machines that could aid in drug delivery, surgical robotics, 'smart' implants, or mobile environmental analyzers, among countless other applications.”

Next, the researchers will work to gain even greater control over the bio-bots’ motion, like integrating neurons so the bio-bots can be steered in different directions with light or chemical gradients. On the engineering side, they hope to design a hydrogel backbone that allows the bio-bot to move in different directions based on different signals. Thanks to 3-D printing, engineers can explore different shapes and designs quickly. Bashir and colleagues even plan to integrate a unit into undergraduate lab curriculum so that students can design different kinds of bio-bots.

“The goal of 'building with biology' is not a new one - tissue engineering researchers have been working for many years to reverse engineer native tissue and organs, and this is very promising for medical applications,” said graduate student Ritu Raman, co-first author of the paper. “But why stop there? We can go beyond this by using the dynamic abilities of cells to self-organize and respond to environmental cues to forward engineer non-natural biological machines and systems.

“The idea of doing forward engineering with these cell-based structures is very exciting,” Bashir said. “Our goal is for these devices to be used as autonomous sensors. We want it to sense a specific chemical and move towards it, then release agents to neutralize the toxin, for example. Being in control of the actuation is a big step forward toward that goal.”

The National Science Foundation supported this work through a Science and Technology Center (Emergent Behavior of Integrated Cellular Systems) grant, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology and other partner institutions. Mechanical science and engineering professor Taher Saif was also a co-author. Bashir also is affiliated with the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, the department of electrical and computer engineering and of mechanical science and engineering, Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory and the Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I.

Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois
Further information:

Further reports about: 3-D Biology Laboratory Technology native signals skeletal specific walk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes
07.10.2015 | Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz

nachricht Flipping molecular attachments amps up activity of CO2 catalyst
06.10.2015 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

Im Focus: High-speed march through a layer of graphene

In cooperation with the Center for Nano-Optics of Georgia State University in Atlanta (USA), scientists of the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität have made simulations of the processes that happen when a layer of carbon atoms is irradiated with strong laser light.

Electrons hit by strong laser pulses change their location on ultrashort timescales, i.e. within a couple of attoseconds (1 as = 10 to the minus 18 sec). In...

Im Focus: Battery Production: Laser Light instead of Oven-Drying and Vacuum Technology

At the exhibition BATTERY + STORAGE as part of WORLD OF ENERGY SOLUTIONS 2015 in Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT and for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS will be showing how laser technology can be used to manufacture batteries both cost- and energy-efficiently.

In the truest sense, it’s all about watts at the Dresden-based Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS and the Aachen-based Fraunhofer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

07.10.2015 | Life Sciences

Research on clean diesel engine technology: Reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and consumption

07.10.2015 | Machine Engineering

Graphene teams up with two-dimensional crystals for faster data communications

06.10.2015 | Information Technology

More VideoLinks >>>