Rashid Bashir, the head of the bioengineering department at the University of Illinois, and Taher Saif, a lecturer of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois, will speak in Boston on the design and development of swimming and walking bio-bots at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The symposium ‘Integrated Cellular Systems, Building Machines with Cells’ will instigate at 1p.m. at the Hynes Convention Centre. A novel briefing will be organized in room. Through the National Science Foundation funded Emergent Behaviour of Integrated Cellular Systems centre, Bashir, Saif and colleagues have introduced small, soft biological robots, dubbed bio-bots, that can walk and swim on their own or when triggered by light or electrical signals.
The scientists make a soft 3-D printed scaffold measuring a centimetre or two in length, seed it with muscle cells and the cells self-organize to form functional tissues that make the bio-bots move.
“Such machines are now viewed as partially living, with the potential to form, the ability to age and potential to heal if there is an injury,” says Saif. “Now that we have got them working, we are instigating to look back and try to comprehend how the cells organize themselves and what language they employ to communicate. This is the developmental biology or living machines.”
In the talk “How to Engineer a Living System,” Bashir will describe the methods that the group has employed to build the bio-bots and to direct their behaviour.
“As engineers, we typically build with substances like steel, wood, or silicon. Our emphasis here is to forward-engineer biological or cell-based systems,” says Bashir. “The design is inspired by the muscle-tendon-bone-complex found in nature. There is a skeleton or backbone, but prepared out of soft polymers similar to the ones employed in contact lenses, so it can bend instead of needing joints like the body does.”
Bashir’s group introduced numerous designs to prepare bio-bots walk in specific directions and to regulate their motion with light or electronic currents. In the talk ‘Engineered Living Micro Swimmers,’ Saif will detail bio-bots that swim and the biological and physical interactions that cause the cells to come into alignment. They form a single muscle unit that contracts to beat a tail, propelling the bio-bot through liquid..
“They align themselves in a direction where the tail of the swimmer can be bent most. Which is precisely what we intended, although, we did not pattern or direct them to do it,” says Saif. “Why do they behave this way? If each of the cells beat at its own time, we would not have the swimmer. What made them synchronize into a singular entity?”
“The aim is not to make a swimmer and a walker, but to lay the scientific foundation so we have principles for building biological machines in the future,” says Saif
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