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Innovations in the biorobotics field
Idea of fully developed and functional robots that will look and act like humans is not new. People are fascinated by the idea of having their own electronic replica that could perform each task they normally do. According to a lot of Sci-Fi movies, our life would be much easier with robots. Creation of humanoid robot may look like an easy thing to do, but so far - only robots able to perform simple tasks are developed. Those robots don’t contain living parts, they are 100% made of electronics. They are very helpful, especially in medical field. For example, medical snake robot is used for minimally invasive cardiac surgery; it is under the full control of the surgeon during operative procedure.

Fully humanoid robots are still waiting to be developed due to complex human physiology, anatomy and functionality, based on perfectly balanced interaction between millions of cells. Robot that contains both electronic and living part is biorobot. Discipline dealing with biorobots is called biorobotics and it could be described as collective effort of cybernetics, bionics and cellular (genetic) engineering to create artificial organism. Synthetic biology and bionanotechnology are also tightly associated and helpful in the field of biorobotics. While creating artificial organism, scientists work on incorporating natural (biochemical) processes and living cells into electronic device.

Signal transduction propagates the body, affects cell communication, metabolism and all biochemical processes. It is essential for normal functioning of all living organisms. Different type of molecules could act like signal transducers: hormones, neurotransmitters, proteins... Cellular response is triggered when signaling molecule binds directly to the cellular receptor or when enters the cell and induce physiological response inside. Molecules that induce cellular response directly by entering the cell are called second messengers. Nitric oxide (NO) is typical representative of that group. It remains in gaseous form in each cellular environment and enters the cell via diffusion. It is synthesized from arginine and oxygen thanks to nitric oxide synthase enzyme. Once NO enters the cell, it triggers another second messenger - cGMP through the activation of the soluble guanylyl cyclase. List of cascade events and biological processes associated with NO is long; some of the most important are apoptosis, erections, vasodilation, muscle relaxation…

NO is selected as signal transduction molecule for the following biorobotics study due to diversity of roles that plays in living organisms. This is the first time that electronic part wasn’t designed to fit biologic system (cellular part of the robot) -quite opposite thing was performed - cellular component was modified to fit electronic part of the robot. Nitric oxide synthase (eNOS enzyme) was genetically altered. Using the plasmid, light–oxygen–voltage domain was inserted in eNOS gene, resulting in photoactive enzyme formation. Genetically altered cells were attached to platinum electrode. Light triggered enzymatic activity and resulted in NO production. Electrode used in the study was modified by covering the surface with NO sensitive layer that will allow transformation of the generated chemical signals into electric signals. Chinese ovary cells cell line (CHO-K1) was used, simply because these cells express high protein level. Proportion between produced NO and generated electric impulses was easily calculated. This is the first biorobotic model showing successfully established signaling transduction: optical signals trigger chemical signals that are converted in electric signals at the end. Another important characteristic of this model is the ability to self-replicate (since it is formed out of living cells) and to combine incoming signals and calculate overall signal. Described experiment is part of a larger study dealing with bio-hybrid robot called “Cyberplasm”. That robot will be first robot able to swim. Modulated (photosensitive) cells will act like eyes and guide robot in different directions according to the provided light. Scientists are hoping that this robot would be of great help with contaminated water and harsh chemicals. Goal will be to swim, collect needed data and deliver them back. “Cyberplasm” project is still not finished. For now, this robot assembles piece by piece and hopefully, it will not pass much time before it become fully developed.

Next step in biorobotics is establishment of the cellular communication. Besides technical improvements, list of biorobotic associated purposes will probably expand in the near future.
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