'Spermbot' Could Be Used To Fertilize Eggs, Deliver Targeted Medicine In Humans

By Josh Lieberman on December 13, 2013 3:28 PM EST

spermbot
Scientists in Dresden, Germany, have created "spermbots" which may one day be used in fertilization and targeted medicine. (Photo: Reuters)

Behold the "spermbot." Scientists at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany, have created a biobot that traps a single sperm in a tiny metal tube, which can then be guided to a desired location in the body. While the most obvious use for the spermbot is fertilization, it could also be used to bring medicine to a targeted part of the body.

Institute for Integrative Nanosciences director Oliver Schmidt and his colleagues created the spermbot by first designing magnetic nanotubes that are 50 microns long (that's 0.05 millimeters). The researchers then dropped one of these nanotubes into a fluid containing bull sperm. The opening of the nanotube is narrower at one end than at the other, so when a sperm swam into the tube, it became trapped. The sperm tail, however, sticks out of the nanotube, so the sperm can still propel its way around.

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Using magnetic fields, the scientists were able to guide the metal-tubed spermbot to where they wanted it to go, and the scientists were able to make the spermbots move slower or faster by cooling down or heating up the fluid.

Schmidt says that one way to use the spermbot in fertilization would be to "capture single sperm cells in vitro, transfer the sperm-driven robots into the uterus and guide them magnetically towards the egg cell location." Aside from fertilization uses, spermbots could be a good biobot to deliver medicine in the human body because they're harmless, self-powering, and they can swim in viscous liquid. Previous efforts to create spermbots haven't been as effective as this most recent one, with some of the previous spermbots even proving toxic.

Schmidt and his colleagues published their paper "Development of a Sperm-Flagella Driven Micro-Bio-Robot" in the journal Advanced Materials. You can see the spermbots work their magic in the video below, which shows the effect on the spermbots of cooling and heating up their environment and also shows how they are guided around with magnetic fields.

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