With real-world applications available within five years, cyberplasms, which feature an electronic nervous system, swim through the human body pinpointing diseases, and may in the future also be used to treat the diseases that they discover. Technically, a cyberplasm is a micro-scale biohybrid robot which is developed using principles of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology being the use of engineering principles to build new devices from biological materials or to make existing biological materials better.
The Cyberplasm Project, led by a team of the U.S. and the U.K researches, is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the U.S and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the U.K. ?In the Cyberplasm Project, what happens is that scientists make use of microelectronics with the new research trends in biomimicry, which is all about miming biological systems.
“In brief, a cyberplasm acts like an electronic nervous system with artificial ?nose,? ?eye? and other organs with mammalian cells. These cells with various detection functions can identify diseases easily. In fact, a cyberplasm imitates the very functioning of a real-world living creature. It is a sea lamprey, which is commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The micro-robot gets huge sensitivity and responsiveness thanks to its imitation of sea lamprey, which has a suction-cup like mouth to prey on fishes and other sea creatures. Synthetic biology is being carried out at the systems level by interfacing multiple cellular /bacterial devices together, connecting to an electronic brain and in effect creating a multi-cellular biohybrid micro-robot. Using an approach that mimics animal models, a combination of cellular device integration, advanced microelectronics and biomimicry.”
The aim of this program is to construct a cyberplasm, a micro-scale robot using principles of synthetic biology.
In a recent issue of Industrial Equipment News, Mark Devlin wrote how robotics, more and more, is taking on serious, real-world challenges, and in so doing, elevating itself above the popular perception of the being the industry of toys and vacuum cleaners.
?The aim of this program is to construct a cyberplasm,” says Devlin, “a micro-scale robot using principles of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is being carried out at the systems level by interfacing multiple cellular /bacterial devices together, connecting to an electronic brain and in effect creating a multi-cellular biohybrid micro-robot. Using an approach that mimics animal models, a combination of cellular device integration, advanced microelectronics and biomimicry, cyberplasm will imitate some of the behavior of the marine animal model, the sea lamprey.
?Cyberplasm harnesses the power of synthetic biology at the cellular level by integrating specific gene ?parts? into bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells to carry out device like functions. This approach allows the cells/bacteria to be “simplified” so that the input/output (I/O) requirements of device integration can be addressed.
?Synthetic muscle generates undulatory movements to propel the robot through the water. Motile function is achieved by engineering muscle cells to have the minimal cellular machinery required for excitation/contraction coupling and contractile function. The muscle is powered by mitochondrial conversion of glucose to ATP*, an energetic currency in biological cells, hence combining power generation with actuation.”
No batteries required
?Synthetic sensors derived from yeast cells report signals from the immediate environment. The signals serve as input to an electronic nervous system. The electronic brain generates signals to drive the muscle cells that use glucose for energy*. All electronic components are powered by a microbial fuel cell integrated into the robot body. In particular, we plan to use visual receptors to couple electronics to both sensation and actuation through light signals.?
Although clinical applications would herald huge advances in treating diseases (truly the killer app for the pharmaceutical industry), preventive medicine, the ability of cyberplasms for early detection of disease, is the microbots’ true billion-dollar dream industry
* ATP is a form of energy converted from glucose for the cell to use in various functions. The process of converting glucose into ATP is called cellular respiration.