The Loh Down On Science

Can bulls help advance medical robotics?

Magdanz et al., Adv. Mat., 2013

A new biohybrid micro-robot is developed by capturing bovine sperm cells inside magnetic microtubes that use the motile cells as driving force. These micro-bio-robots can be remotely controlled by an external magnetic field.

Tiny medical robots:  Great idea, but how do we propel them?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Microscopic robots could change medicine, but there’s a problem:  Getting the little buggers to move!  Preferably in a direction of our choosing.  Enter scientists at Germany's Institute for Integrative Nanosciences.  Their solution?  Combining magnetic particles with bull sperm.  Yes, you heard right, sperm from bulls, which is similar to human sperm.

The researchers trapped individual sperm cells in metal tubes 50 microns long.  That's about the thickness of a sheet of paper!  The microtubes were narrower at one end: so sperm could swim in but not out.  Tubes were also short enough to allow the tail of the sperm to stick out and propel the robot.  Magnetic fields controlled direction.

Scientists have found ways to move nanobots before, but mostly using toxic chemical fuels.  Sperm is natural and comes with its own power source.

Medical nanobots could deliver medication, repair damaged tissue—even help with artificial insemination!

As for the bulls, they'd rather help the old-fashioned way, but at this point they’ve “helped” enough. 

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