In March this year, American electrical engineer and scientist Professor Rashid Bashir published a blow-by-blow account of how to design and make a muscle-powered biological machine. Dubbed ‘bio-bot’, the walking, 6mm-long device can be powered by muscle cells, controlled with electrical and optical pulses and could one day roam your body to deliver drugs, detect disease or remove pieces of tissue.
Crucially for would-be bio-bot builders, the process, published in Nature Protocols, describes every fabrication step from 3D-printing a skeleton to tissue-engineering a muscle actuator, including the part numbers for every component Bashir uses in his laboratory.
“We wanted to provide detailed recipes and protocols so that others can duplicate the work and further permeate the idea of ‘building with biology’,” says Bashir. “[With this], other researchers can have the tools and knowledge to build bio-hybrid systems, and attempt to address challenges in health, medicine and the environment that we face as a society.”
It all started several years ago, when Bashir, head of bioengineering and director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and fellow researchers, wanted to answer one simple question: ‘Can we design with cells?’
As Bashir points out: “We realised that if we knew the design rules and knew how to get the cells to communicate, we could use these cells as building blocks for machines and systems.”
By Rebecca Pool | E&T
Image Credit: E&T