In the world of the microbe, many strange and yet to be discovered wonders exist with a multitude of applications waiting to be utilized. Biohybrid microrobots are an autonomous part of this mini-universe, composed of a living organism integrated with artificial materials, they traditionally exhibit dimensions of less than 1 mm so they are small enough to travel through the human body.
Biohybrid microbots are a preferred entity to their fully electronic counterparts as they have the advantage of naturally autonomous movement whilst reacting to their environment. However, these hybrid machines incorporate potentially harmful material such as metal, ceramics, and plastics for added strength and longevity. Therefore, a completely natural and programmable microbot engineered from purely biological tissues is highly desirable.
Synthetic programmable lifeforms
Now, a study from researchers at the University of Vermont scrapes living cells from frog embryos and reassembles them into entirely new programmable life-forms. The team states these synthetic living exobiologics, which can carry out a variety of programs, possess no reproductive organs, and simply degrade safely to become unfunctional after seven days. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous studies show biohybrid microbots have many advantages over traditional artificial microbots. Studies have historically concentrated on amalgamating artificial materials with bacteria and algae in the hope they could one day be used to deliver therapeutics or kill cancer cells in the body, whilst sensing and responding to their surroundings using higher processes.
However, these hybrid microbots contain artificial materials that degrade over time and can produce environmental and health side effects, with exobiological life-forms presenting a safer option. The current study uses an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of living microbot models which are then converted, using only real biological tissues, into new life-forms.
The current study utilizes a supercomputer to model thousands of exo-lifeforms encompassing diverse functionality, with the most viable designs made a reality. This was done using embryonic stem cells from the Xenopus laevis frog which were incubated, dissected and assembled under a microscope into artificial lifeforms.
Results show the ‘xenobots’ are fully motile and come loaded with their own embryonic food source allowing them to live for over a week. Data findings show when the xenobots are manufactured in a nutritious cell culture, they can live for weeks or months.
Future uses for living microbots
The lab states their xenobots can work together in groups, are fully motile, can push or carry an object, and have the ability to heal themselves if damaged. Other xenobots were built with a hole in the middle, which were successfully used to carry cargo; a step toward using these synthetic lifeforms as an intelligent drug delivery system. They conclude their xenobots could also be modified to detect and clear environmental contamination or to scrape out plaque blocking arteries in the body.
The team surmises they have engineered a living, self-healing microbot using stem cells from frogs. For the future, the researchers state building living exobiologics provides another part of the morphogenetic code, namely, a deeper view of the overall way organisms self-assemble, process information and memorize their environment.
Source: University of Vermont
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Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, she specializes in clinical trial innovation--expertise she gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University.