Scientists at Harvard University developed a stingray-like synthetic creature made of biological material and mechanical parts capable of propelling itself through water—a breakthrough for researchers that could lead to future robotic, biological and medical developments.
No larger than a penny, the cyborg (short for cybernetic organism) is composed of a gold skeleton overlaid with a thin layer of polymer. The body is coated with about 200,000 living rat heart cells, which are genetically modified to contract when exposed to light. The direction and frequency of light pulses controls the direction and speed of the synthetic creature’s movement.
Researchers believe the project will lead to a greater understanding of how a heart pumps blood around the body. The cyborg’s developer, bioengineer Kit Parker of Harvard University, plans to use his findings to design a synthetic heart—made of organic and mechanical elements—that could replace weakened or damaged hearts in humans.
In addition, the development “could offer some new leads for roboticists working with soft tissue structures, and also help marine biologists better understand how rays use their fins to swim,” ScienceAlert reported.
Some bioengineers suggest that cyborgs similar to the stingray could be used for jobs that exceed human abilities, such as cleaning toxic waste from lakes.
Mr. Parker stated: “I think we’ve got a biological life form here…A machine, but a biological life form. I wouldn’t call it an organism, because it can’t reproduce, but it certainly is alive.”