January 23, 2014


I adore bio-bots, if you cannot tell. Every time I find something new or interesting about them, I have to look into it. How could I not? They are remarkable little inventions with countless possible applications. Today, as I was trying to come up with something new and interesting to write about, I came across news of a new class of bio-bot that has just recently come into production. In my excitement, I told a friend about them, exclaiming “robo-sperm!” Her response, as I am sure would be the response of many, was simply “Wow. How is that a thing?”

A team of engineers led by Professor Taher Sif of the University of Illinois is behind this tiny little wonder. Not truly a sperm, these tiny little robots are designed much in the same manner as a sperm, single-celled creatures with a long tail called a flagella that allows it to move about. The research team created these incredible tiny bio-bots by creating its body from a simple, flexible polymer. Then they used cultured heart cells near the junction of the head and the tail. The cells then self-aligned all on their own and synchronized to beat together in rhythm, which in turn sends a pulse down the length of the tail that propels the bio-bot forward, just like how a sperm moves. Incredibly, the actual design of the device is really simple. In fact, it is little more than the head and the wire tail. The cells are what give it movement and make it functional. How the cells manage to communicate with each other and the flexible polymer tail, as well as how they are able to synchronize so well, is still not completely understood. In addition to the single-tailed bio-bots, the team also designed two-tailed versions, which they found were able to move even more swiftly. Having multiple tails also makes navigation a possibility, although they have yet to complete such a design. This incredible new innovation is able to travel through the viscous fluids of biological environments – read: people – on their own, which invites many new possibilities for potential applications. Future versions of these bio-bots might be able to sense chemicals or light and be able to navigate towards a predetermined target for medical or other environmental purposes. It is hoped that one day these little devices could assist in performing minimally invasive surgeries, target cancer cells, or even deliver drugs to specifically designated areas for maximum efficiency. The use of these little bio-bots in the medical industry could have monumental results.

For a look at the design and movement of this new bio-bot, check this out:

These “robo-sperm” (a fun name for these things) are the first of their kind, the first microscopic bio-bots, able to traverse through a world we are only able to glimpse through a microscope. The fusion of organic and inorganic to create something marvelous is truly astounding, and always leaves me eager to find out what the next great advancement will be.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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