Robotic Stingray Powered by Rat Heart Cells To Help Develop Artificial Hearts Better

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Jul 10, 2016 07:32 PM EDT

Light-controlled cardiac muscle cells guide swimming of an artificial animal. Learn more: Read the research: (Photo : Science Magazine)

Harvard University researchers created a robotic stingray powered by rat heart cells that could help understanding the human heart and help point science towards the right direction in order to create more stable artificial hearts in the future.

The team led by Kevin Kit Parker said that the robotic stingray moves via light energy. The muscles of the device are inserted with living rat heart cells that are stuffed with modified DNA to make it sensitive to light. Parker explains that creating an artificial heart made with living muscle cells would make more sense as they are trying to replicate how the organ moves.

Stingray Not So Different From a Heart?
Parker says that the stingray and the heart may differ in many ways but not in the way they have to push water to move and pump blood through the body respectively. The idea of using the marine animal to create the artificial organ was realized during an aquarium visit with his daughter. He noticed that the stingray quickly evaded his daughter's hand and knew that the heart does the same when it is exposed to different pressures or blood flow, NPR reported.

Parker worked with his colleagues to develop a robotic stingray made with a gold skeleton framework, flexible polymer and hundreds of thousands of cells from a rat. He consulted with his colleague and robotics expert Sung-Jin Park.

According to Huffington Post, the robotic stingray could be controlled through optogenetics and by putting a special DNA in the cells to make it more sensitive to light. In short, the Harvard researchers could move the robot's fins by using the on and off switch of a light. Furthermore, they found that the robot stingray can actually glide through water pretty well, almost as if it were a real one.They made the stingray move through numerous obstacle courses successfully as well.

The details of the design of the robotic stingray have been published in the journal Science.

Tiny, Strange Robot – Big Challenges
The robotic stingray is very small at only more than half an inch long and with a weight of only 10 grams. There are approximately 200,000 genetically modified rat heart-muscle cells that help the robot propel through waters.
Since the robot is partially organic, scientists need to have it swim in a pool of liquid with nutrients in it to nourish the rat heart cells in it. Popular Mechanics noted that the rat cells don't need to be fed often as it continues to power the artificial stingray after 6 weeks.

However, having it swim outside of the lab is a challenge that the scientists have to overcome. The non-existence of an immune system makes the robotic stingray prone to infection and failure so should a bacteria or fungus get to it; it could stop moving.

Since the robotic stingray is partially made with organic living cells, do you think this creation is alive or just a machine? Let us know in the comments below.


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