Monday, August 27, 2012

First steps to creating a cyborg

A cybernetic organism, or cyborg, is a being that consists of both electronic and biological parts. While that sounds like science fiction, some of us actually look forward to building one. In fact, researchers at Harvard University and MIT have made the first steps in order to create a real cyborg, by creating tissues that are part electronics, part biology. Scientists have increasingly been trying to link electronics with biology, and have already managed to simulate an entire organism with a computer.

Building tissues
To start off, the Harvard and MIT researchers created a network of nano-wires built from silicon, crafted inside an epoxy framework. Because of the porous, mesh-like structure, it functions as a seedbed for cells, which were consequently 'sown' on the nano-structure. The cells, derived from the neural network and cardiovascular system, adhered to the framework and started to form an actual tissue with a 3D structure.

Bodies have various ways to keep the internal environment stable and balanced. So-called feedback loops are used to keep things such as oxygen level, pH and blood pressure around the required values. The tissues developed by Harvard and MIT need such features as well in order to function normally: so far the scientists managed to let the tissue sense various chemical and electrical parameters, and detect changes by stimulating the tissue with a hormone called noradrenaline. This is promising, because the tissue, at least partly, mimics the way the body keeps balance.

Tissues that are part biology, part electronics are the building blocks for cyborgs. However, it is of course not easy to go from fairly simple tissues to a whole organism, that is able to function independently. The Harvard and MIT scientists have just made the first steps, but it is likely such experiments also aid to the creation of tissues that can be used for medical procedures. Examples include restoring limbs or perhaps even organs. It could also be used to test drugs, because the electronic tissue contains various sensors that could tell us something about drug activity.
Robocop: a popular science fiction cyborg.

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