Harmful gut bug inspires robotics design

August 4th, 2011 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 4 (IANS) A bug that triggers one of the most prevalent gastro-intestinal diseases globally is inspiring scientists to develop robots that can fight infections and even help in military operations.

Mingjun Zhang, associate professor in mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his team have unravelled the secret of the bug giardia’s successes.

“Giardia seems to be one of the most sophisticated swimming micro-organisms and is very efficient and intelligent in terms of controlling its swimming behaviour and energy utilisation,” Zhang said. “It is a source rife with bio-inspiration and innovation.”

“We found each of the four pairs of flagella (arms) conducts different functions,” Zhang said. “This is amazing, considering the length of the flagella is only about eight to 12 micrometres each, with a diameter of a few hundred nanometres.” (A nanometre is a billionth of a metre).

For 250 years, scientists have tried to figure out how the pathogen is able to attach to a multitude of surfaces and swim in harsh environments — enabling it to infect many kinds of species while most parasites have specific hosts, according to a Tennessee statement.

Zhang’s discovery can help in fighting giardia attacks and others like it. The discovery may help to develop a way to block its attachment in the human intestine as an alternative for treating the disease.

The discovery may also lead to bio-inspired swimming micro-robots for nanomedicine, such as site-specific controlled drug delivery and less invasive surgical procedures.

For instance, micro-robots can navigate through the body to break up kidney stones, deliver drugs to specific sites after injection and reduce the invasiveness of surgery.

On a larger scale, knowing giardia’s inner workings may buoy an energy-efficient propulsion system for underwater vehicles or designs for quick turn and agile control of underwater vehicles.

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