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January 29, 2008

Sperm may provide a blueprint for powering tiny robots.


Mimicking sperm engineering. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Someday, doctors may inject incredibly tiny robots into the body to treat diseases. And if research at Cornell University pans out, those robots may work much like human sperm. Biologist Alex Travis and his colleagues are studying how sperm convert blood sugar into energy, without adding bulky machinery. A key element is an energy-producing chain of enzymes, tethered directly to the sperm’s whiplike tail.

ALEX TRAVIS (Cornell Unversity):
And so what we’ve done is try to borrow what sperm have figured out over the course of evolution, and apply it to nanotechnology.

So far, they’ve modified two of the ten enzymes in the chain, attached them to a nickel-based chip, and shown that they still work. If progress continues, a complete chain might someday propel a new generation of tiny, streamlined swimmers. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.