New generations of bio-inspired robots will be more than just inspired by nature — they may use actual biological components. Bioengineers at MIT have genetically modified muscle cells to respond to light, which could be used to make easily controllable robot muscles that look and act like the animals on which they're based.
This is the first time tough, powerful skeletal muscle has been modified to react to light. Optogenetics researchers have done it with cardiac cells, which are already primed to beat on their own — now skeletal muscle, which normally requires some outside stimulus, can contract and expand at the command of light bursts. Harry Asada, an engineering professor at MIT, said it's more effective and less bulky than stimulating muscle with electrodes, especially for a robotics system where light weight and mobility are key.
Optogenetics entails introducing new genes into cells that make them react to a pulse of light, usually short bursts of laser light. Asada's team worked with myoblasts, cultures of skeletal muscle cells, to express a light-activated protein. They combined several myoblasts into long muscle fibers and exposed them to 20-millisecond pulses of blue light. In the video below, the blue dot represents the pulses, and you can see the fibers contract in response. A targeted burst of light makes one fiber contract, while a more diffuse beam can make the whole sheet move.
What's more, the engineered muscle is pretty tough — to test its force, the team attached strips of muscle fiber to two tiny flexible posts inside a microwell. As the fibers contract, they pul the posts together, allowing the researchers to calculate its force. This could even be used as an artificial muscle gym, flexing the fibers to keep them in top shape.
The goal is to use strips of engineered muscle fibers to build flexible, realistic robots, which may swim inside the body's blood vessels or run across a room. "With bio-inspired designs, biology is a metaphor, and robotics is the tool to make it happen," Asada said. "With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor."
Research on the optogenetic muscle will appear in the journal Lab on a Chip.
I like it! I love it! I want some more of it! Oh yea, cyborgs and skynet is underway!
We really are building the lifeform that will take over for us when we kill ourselves off, piece by piece we lay down the bricks paving the biomechanical lifeforms future. AI, quantum computing, digitally encoded DNA, advances in metallurgy, 3D printing, now working lab grown muscle stucture. We are building our own end.
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
This is genius. I wonder if the depolarization is as strong as in the normal ion depolarization? If so, this is remarkable! And what conditions are necessary to keep the muscles functional? I'd assume they have to be submerged in an ion-rich solution of some sort, similar to interstitial fluid or blood plasma, but that would be easy. This is seriously amazing. It bridges the gap between an electric organism and a chemical one. This is huge.
I hate you, Robot...
So my glow-bot is still going to have skin right? I just don't really need to see all the happening going on you know.