Laser-Controlled Bubble Microbots Assemble Cell Structures, Weird Us Out
One of the biggest outstanding problems in biotechnology is also one of the simplest--moving cells around without harming them. The finest plastic or metal probes are relatively bulky and difficult to control at microscopic scale.
Enter the Bubblebot. Researchers at the University of Hawaii created a bubble in saline solution using a needle full of air, then used a laser to move it around, pushing yeast cells encased in hydrogel and shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces into alignment. Frankly, it looks like a computer game.
It works because the laser heats the fluid around the bubble unevenly, which causes the fluid to expand. This pushes the bubble in the cooler direction---the direction the researchers want it to go. At microscopic scale, the bubble's surface tension is sufficient to hold it together and exert force on the cell blocks.
Since it's just air bubbles in water, it doesn't require any fancy (and toxic) chemicals or genetic engineering of cells, and the primary expense is the laser to control the bubbles. And it's easy to scale to multiple lasers, working independently, to build more interesting things.
While it remains to be seen what to do with a micromolecular bulldozer, it's a significant step towards faster and more advanced control of objects at that scale.
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