Phototactic guidance of a tissue-engineered soft-robotic ray

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Science  08 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6295, pp. 158-162
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4292

Swim into the light

A bio-inspired swimming robot that mimics a ray fish can be guided by light. Park et al. built a 1/10th-scale version of a ray fish with a microfabricated gold skeleton and a rubber body powered by rat heart muscle cells. The cardiomyocytes were genetically engineered to respond to light cues, so that the undulatory movements propelling the robot through water would follow a light source.

Science, this issue p. 158


Inspired by the relatively simple morphological blueprint provided by batoid fish such as stingrays and skates, we created a biohybrid system that enables an artificial animal—a tissue-engineered ray—to swim and phototactically follow a light cue. By patterning dissociated rat cardiomyocytes on an elastomeric body enclosing a microfabricated gold skeleton, we replicated fish morphology at Embedded Image scale and captured basic fin deflection patterns of batoid fish. Optogenetics allows for phototactic guidance, steering, and turning maneuvers. Optical stimulation induced sequential muscle activation via serpentine-patterned muscle circuits, leading to coordinated undulatory swimming. The speed and direction of the ray was controlled by modulating light frequency and by independently eliciting right and left fins, allowing the biohybrid machine to maneuver through an obstacle course.

  • * Present address: Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.

  • Present address: Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.

  • Present address: Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

  • § Present address: The Winsor School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.

  • || Present address: Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881, USA.

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