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Desktop biofactories? New microrobots might manipulate single cells, Science authors report

Tiny, submersible robots may suggest a single-cell retrieval system, desktop biofactories, or even tools for minimally invasive surgery, according to a 30 June report in the international journal, Science.

At 670 micrometers tall and 170 to 240 micrometers wide, the new microrobots are shorter than this hyphen--and no wider than the following period. Unlike many previous designs, the Swedish-made microrobots can function in salty broths, blood, urine, cell-culture medium and other liquids, suggesting a host of biotechnology uses.

"Being able to manipulate many individual cells at the same time is becoming increasingly important for genomics, proteomics, and metabolic research," says Edwin W.H. Jager, a graduate student at Sweden's Linköpings Universitet and lead author of the Science paper. "We think that these microrobots would be helpful for fundamental studies, or for manufacturing other small devices, especially if we set up arrays of them."

The robot's miniature hand might someday pluck single cells, bacteria, multi-cellular organisms and other biological entities from a sample, then transfer them to an analysis station. Coupled with a multisensor area, the microrobots also may suggest lab-on-a-chip designs, or "factory-on-a-desk" tools, programmed to assemble various microstructures, say coauthors Olle Inganäs and Ingemar Lundström, faculty members at Linköpings Universitet. Positioned at the end of a catheter, the polymer-and-gold microrobots might increase the range of surgeons, too.

How do the microrobots work? Imagine a human hand, opening and closing. Similarly, conducting polymers such as polypyrrole can be forced to shrink and swell on command. The researchers combine layers of gold and polypyrrole, then use electricity to manipulate contractions of the polymer.

To make the microrobot grab a glass bead, for instance, researchers plump up the polymer by drawing positively charged ions, called ca
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Contact: Ginger Pinholster
gpinhols@aaas.org
202-326-6421
American Association for the Advancement of Science
29-Jun-2000


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