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