VIDEO: Biorobotic stingray created from rat heart muscle cells - "I think we've got a biological life-form here"

07/07/2016 - 18:42

Evan Ackerman | Image: Karaghen Hudson

Kit Parker, Bio-Engineer at Harvard University told Popular Mechanics.

Robots have advanced an enormous amount over the past few years, in both hardware and software, and the next few years promise even more advancements. It’s exciting, but we’re nowhere close to the efficiency and capability of animals, and it’s going to be a while before humans are able to create anything to match their level of elegance, especially when it comes to powered motion.

One way to avoid playing catch-up with animals all of the time is to simply steal everything you can from them as directly as possible.


Ref: Phototactic guidance of a tissue-engineered soft-robotic ray. Science (8 July 2016) | DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4292 | PDF (Open Access)


Inspired by the relatively simple morphological blueprint provided by batoid fish such as stingrays and skates, we created a biohybrid system that enables an artificial animal—a tissue-engineered ray—to swim and phototactically follow a light cue. By patterning dissociated rat cardiomyocytes on an elastomeric body enclosing a microfabricated gold skeleton, we replicated fish morphology at Embedded Image scale and captured basic fin deflection patterns of batoid fish. Optogenetics allows for phototactic guidance, steering, and turning maneuvers. Optical stimulation induced sequential muscle activation via serpentine-patterned muscle circuits, leading to coordinated undulatory swimming. The speed and direction of the ray was controlled by modulating light frequency and by independently eliciting right and left fins, allowing the biohybrid machine to maneuver through an obstacle course.