Our body has an amazing sense of recognizing something as self or foreign, harmful or beneficial. However, our interpretation of this data and pinpointing specific diseases leads to the sometimes complicated world of diagnostics. The process of finding what disease, organism, or bacteria is present in the body, then recognizing and analyzing it involves multiple systems. Funded by the the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, scientists are developing a small ‘biohybrid’ robot called the Cyberplasm which uses living cells and technology to find and interact with bacteria and cells within our own bodies. Once something is identified, it can be reported back to an engineered nervous system to interpret. Based on the form and function of a sea lamprey, a simple sea creature pictured above, the small robot will be able to swim through our bodies to possibly record data, find and identify diseases.

This is no small feat. In order to achieve this, the Cyberplasm is equipped with synthetic muscle to propel it through the body, which requires the biologic conversion of sugar to energy. Synthetic sensors scope the environment and report back to an electronic nervous system. This is all part of an engineering principle called “Synthetic Biology,” where man made devices mimic life’s functions. Optoelectric interfaces are being developed to adapt and respond to a changing environment as the robot swims through the body. The power of the robot will come from microbial fuel cells, a renewable energy, converting bacteria to electric current and energy.