Scientists genetically engineered and 3D printed a biohybrid using rat heart cells, gold and rubber, opening the door to lifelike robots, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs.
The biohybrid could be mistaken for a baby ray. The tiny, flexible swimmer is the product of a team of diverse scientists. They’ve built the most successful artificial animal yet.
Kit Kevin Parker, PhD, a Harvard professor researching how to build a human heart, saw his daughter entranced by watching stingrays. He wondered if he could engineer a muscle that could move in the same fashion.
The quest for a material led to creating an artificial ray with a 3D printed rubber body at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard. Scientists at from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University’s Medical Center joined the team.
They reinforced the soft rubber body with a 3D printed gold skeleton so thin that it functions like cartilage. Geneticists adapted rat heart cells so they could respond to light by contracting. They were then grown in a carefully arranged pattern on the rubber and around the gold skeleton.
The muscular circuitry is one of the interesting parts of the research, and there’s more about it in this video:
The new engineered animal responds to light so well that scientists were able to guide it through an obstacle course 16 times its length using strong and weak light pulses.
The study authors write, “Our ray outperformed existing locomotive biohybrid systems in terms of speed, distance travelled, and durability (six days), demonstrating the potential of self-propelled, phototactically activated tissue-engineered robots.”
What does this mean?
These scientists have pushed the current limits of robotics and biology enabling both to move forward, with projects like this as a start, rather than the end. However, many claim this is an extremely disruptive technology.
This could lead to better research to do things like creating an artificial heart, as well as other organs and possibly even brain tissues which are made of a hybrid of technologies.
On the other hand, they can be said to be playing god, raising ethical and philosophical questions about what it means to be alive, or a robot, or something in between.
Is this the start of a future of cyber organisms.. what do you think?