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Harvard researchers built a living stingray-bot out of rat hearts

Developed by a team of researchers at Harvard University, the bio-engineered marvel looks, flexes and swims just like a tiny stingray.

The stingray-bot is made up of four distinct layers: a silicone substrate that forms its body "the same thing as the outer coating of a breast implant," a skeletal system made of gold wire, a second layer of silicone that insulates the skeleton and, finally, 200,000 genetically-engineered rat cells. Those cells are designed to contract when exposed to a specific wavelength of light. When they do, the robot effectively swims in the same undulating manner as its namesake. 

What's more, the "biological life-form," as lead researcher, Kit Parker, describes it, automatically follows the light source as it swims through the nutrient-rich liquid that keeps its cells alive, allowing it to be remotely controlled.

The bio-bot can't survive outside of the lab yet. Even if it didn't need its specialized liquid, the rat cells have no immune system and would be immediately attacked by bacteria and fungal pathogens. Even so, Parker hopes that it will lead others to develop a complete, genetically-engineered heart, among other things.

Parker believes his robot, a machine built of living animal cells, forces a strange philosophical question: Is it alive? "I think we've got a biological life-form here." he says, "A machine, but a biological life form. I wouldn't call it an organism, because it can't reproduce, but it certainly is alive."

Maybe the coolest aspect of the stingray bot is that different scientists can all learn radically different things from it. Parker says his biggest takeaway, as a researcher who hopes to engineer a fully working heart muscle, is that the robot exemplifies how certain heart-muscle can flush and flow liquid around it. "Meanwhile the roboticists and engineers can see different ways to use biological cells as building materials, and marine biologists can take a look to better understand why the muscle tissues in rays are built and organized the way they are," he says.

"We turned a rat into a light guided stingray. Hell, all they need to know is that this is the coolest thing they're going to see all year." he says.

Source: Popular Mechanics

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