In what seems like a Cthulian moment of experimentation, scientists have fashioned a biotech "nose" by genetically engineering frog cells to behave like insect nose cells. And then they turned the hybrid cells into a control device for a robot.
Why would they do this? The idea is to create a biosensor that responds to specific chemicals in the environment. It could, for example, be used as a warning system that sniffs out toxins that human noses can't smell. The results of their experiment, published over the weekend in the Proceedings of the Academy of Science, suggest that the nose works:
According to the authors, in tests the "bio-hybrid" sensor was able to differentiate between nearly identical chemicals, such as compounds that have similar chemical formulas but slightly different molecular structures.
But here's where things get even more interesting:
To test the device's potential in a portable system, the researchers amplified the sensor's output and used it to actuate a robot that was equipped with an electric motor. The authors suggest that the sensor may enhance the portability of current odor detection systems, and could be incorporated into a variety of applications, such as environmental monitoring and food administration.
What that means is that when the "nose" smells something specific, it will cause the robot to react in a pre-programmed way. For example, if it smelled something rotting in a commercial kitchen, the frog-insect nose could direct the robot to locate the source of the smell and then say, "Something is rotten right here! Clean it up now, human slaves."
The robot these researchers created is also a perfect example of a cyborg, incorporating biological systems from two different kinds of animal into a technological system.
Image by Danny Outlaw