Pathogen research inspires microrobotics designs

August 3, 2011

Swimming patterns of giardia flagella (credit: Scott C. Lenaghan et al./PNAS)

Giardia, a pathogen that attacks the small intestines of humans and animals, is serving as the inspiration for developing robots that can fight disease and aid in military operations, researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have found.

The researchers found that each of the four pairs of Giardia flagella conducts different functions. The discovery may lead to bio-inspired swimming microrobots for nanomedicine, such as site-specific controlled drug delivery and less invasive surgical procedures. For example, micro-robots could navigate through the body to break up kidney stones, deliver drugs to specific sites after injection and reduce the invasiveness of surgery.

The knowledge of Giardia’s inner workings could also be used to develop an energy-efficient propulsion system for underwater vehicles or designs for quick turn and agile control of underwater vehicles, and its unique attachment and landing procedures may inspire a more accurate and quick surface attachment mechanism, the researchers said.

The team’s discovery can also aid in fighting the pathogen’s attack and others like it, and help to develop a way to block its attachment in the human intestine, as an alternative for treating the disease.

Ref.: S. C. Lenaghan, et al., High-speed microscopic imaging of flagella motility and swimming in Giardia lamblia trophozoites, PNAS, 2011; [DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1106904108]