Pathogen research inspires robotics design for medicine and military

Aug 02, 2011

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.

Mingjun Zhang, associate professor in mechanical, aerospace and , at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his team have made significant findings about the swimming and attachment of the microorganism Giardia. Giardia causes one of the most common in the world, giardiasis. For 250 years, scientists have tried to understand how the microorganism is able to attach to a multitude of surfaces and swim in harsh environments—enabling it to infect many kinds of species while most parasites have specific hosts. Zhang and his team have made significant progress to solve the puzzle.

"We found each of the four pairs of flagella conducts different functions," Zhang said of some of the team's findings. "This is amazing considering the length of the flagella is only about eight to 12 micrometers each, with a diameter of a few hundred nanometers."

The team's discovery can aid in fighting the pathogen's attack and others like it. The discovery may help to develop a way to block its attachment in the human intestine as an alternative for treating the disease. The discovery may also lead to bio-inspired swimming micro-robots for nanomedicine, such as site-specific controlled drug delivery and less invasive surgical procedures. For instance, micro-robots can navigate through the body to break up kidney stones, deliver drugs to specific sites after injection and reduce the invasiveness of surgery.

On a larger scale, knowing Giardia's inner workings may buoy an energy-efficient propulsion system for underwater vehicles or designs for quick turn and agile control of underwater vehicles. The findings of Giardia's unique attachment and landing procedures may also inspire a more accurate and quick surface attachment mechanism.

"Giardia seems to be one of the most sophisticated swimming microorganisms and is very efficient and intelligent in terms of controlling its swimming behavior and energy utilization," Zhang said. "It is a source rife with bio-inspiration and innovation."

Explore further: Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

Provided by University of Tennessee at Knoxville

4.5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Giardia genome unlocked

Sep 27, 2007

Giardia lamblia, one of the most common human parasites in the United States, causes more than 20,000 intestinal infections a year, often through contact with contaminated drinking or swimming water. In the September 28 iss ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

4 hours ago

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

5 hours ago

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

Histones and the mystery of cell proliferation

Aug 19, 2014

Before cells divide, they create so much genetic material that it must be wound onto spools before the two new cells can split apart. These spools are actually proteins called histones, and they must multiply ...

User comments : 0