Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Microbots steered by light being used to study cells

17 August 2019

Light Clockwork

Changes in single cells often have massive knock-on effects – the development of new tissues perhaps, or when problems occur – diseases like cancer. Although working with fragile single cells can be tricky, here's a new way to give them a gentle push in the lab. These cog shaped microbots –each a hundred times smaller than cog in a watch – are surrounded by patterns of turquoise light. Playing with these patterns, and how they interfere with electric fields around the cogs, creates pushing and pulling forces, allowing them to rotate or slide through space – the cogs can even pick up, transport and deliver small particles with some skilful steering from scientists peering down through a microscope. While optoelectronic technology is still developing, microbots are already being used to study how single cells interact, building towards a better understanding of life’s clockwork.

Written by John Ankers

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