Oil droplets can navigate complex maze (w/ Video)

February 18, 2010
Simple oil droplets (in red) can navigate a complex maze using a special chemical approach that could lead to improved delivery of anti-cancer drugs. Credit: American Chemical Society

Call them oil droplets with a brain or even "chemo-rats." Scientists in Illinois have developed a way to make simple oil droplets "smart" enough to navigate through a complex maze almost like a trained lab rat. The finding could have a wide range of practical implications, including helping cancer drugs to reach their target and controlling the movement of futuristic nano-machines, the scientists say. Their study is in the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Bartosz Grzybowski and colleagues note that the ability to solve a maze is a common scientific test of intelligence. Animals ranging from rats to humans can master the task. Scientists would like to pass along that same ability to anti-cancer drugs, for instance, to help these medications navigate complex mazes of and reach the tumor.

The scientists describe an advance in that direction. They developed postage-stamp-sized mazes, and infused them with an alkaline solution, and placed a gel containing a strong acid at the exit. That created a pH gradient, a difference between the acid-alkaline levels. Oil droplets containing a weak acid placed at the entrance of the mazes developed convective flows in response to pH differences and propelled themselves along the gradient toward the exit. Since are more acidic than other body cells, the experiment may serve as a model for designing new anti-cancer drugs that move along similar acid-based gradients to target diseased cells, the scientists suggest.

Explore further: Acid-seeking 'warheads' promise safer, more effective cancer weapons

More information: "Maze Solving by Chemotactic Droplets", Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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not rated yet Feb 18, 2010
In idea of life evolution locomotive protein droplets could play a significant role in life formation, because they're surprisingly "intelligent" and "adaptive" - so they could serve as a missing link between inorganic and organic matter:


Recently giant grape-sized amoebas were found rolling on the seafloor, which could support this hypothesis too.

5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
Article about droplet locomotion is here:

not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
You can just imagine droplets being formed by deep ocean black smoker, forming an effective gradient in both temperature an PH along the smokestack. as the the droplets deposit on the the stack, the stack grows, altering the stack dynamics and mineral selective depositzones, so an evolutionairy fewedback mechanism arises for smokestack to grow and give birth to life with it.
I think its not coincidental that the one of the most primitive lifeform found there are giant worms, that in fact look like biological copies of the smokestacks themselves.
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
it gets even more interesting when you have a group of blak smokers in close proximity, then, by natural selection and competition over resources, the most succesfull smokestack will outgrow the others, hence, to outdo competition, succesfull smokestacks must increase the "intelligence" of their design, maybe even to a point of creating RNA so primitive bacteria can become symbiotic worker ants for them...
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
That giant sea amoaba is very interesting, it can find its own feedingground. Maybe here lies an oppertunity to genetically modify these seagrapes to be drawn to specific sediments. While they only craw 2.5 cms a day, if you grow thousands of them with bioluminecent markers and pluch them in a regular checkerboard pattern over the seafloor, perhaps after a year, you could count their densities and locations and get a pretty good info about seafloor composition over wide areas without drilling, perhaps even clues to precious metals.
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
Sorry for double post, couldn't edit previous post.

That giant sea amoeba is very interesting, it can find its own feeding ground. Maybe here lies an oppertunity to genetically modify these seagrapes to be drawn to specific sediments. While they only crawl 2.5 cms a day, if you grow thousands of them with bioluminicent markers (so an automated underwater robot could easily spot them with uv light or something) and spread them in a regular checkerboard pattern over the seafloor, perhaps after a year or 2, you count their increased/decreased densities and altered locations and get very detailed info about local seafloor composition over wide areas, without drilling, PH, salinity, water temperature and perhaps even clues to precious metal vains. Naturally you could enlist other species as your research scouts, but most sea creatures are very mobile, go with favorable watercurrents, while these sea grapes prefer to stick to the floor as not to get washed away from their preferred sediment

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