Vignette 2: Biobots reproduce!

Module 1, Vignette 2: Biobots reproduce!

Scientists have developed a method to print millimeter-to-centimeter scale biological microrobots or ‘bio-bots.’ These ‘creatures’ consist of soft-polymer materials and living cells. They can be made in scales of 1 biobot per minute and thousands can be made in a few hours. They are composed of three types of cells: ‘sensing cells’ that can sense the presence of neuro-toxins in water supplies; ‘actuator cells’ that enable them to move and walk towards the source of the toxins; and ‘factory cells’ that can release antidotes to neutralize the harmful effect of the toxins. These biobot creatures can survive for months at a time and can be very beneficial for the society.

The initial designs of the biobots produced above have now been improved to incorporate stem cells so the biobots have self-healing characteristics. If they get minimally damaged, they can heal themselves and continue the useful function that they are designed for. However, it was found that during the healing process, some of the stem cells ‘shed’ and fall off of the parent biobots. If these cells have already begun to differentiate into the sensing, actuating, and factory cells, and if researchers provide the right chemical and physical environment, the daughter cells have the capacity to produce identical biobots with the same functionalities as the parent bots. While this was a very exciting discovery, the prospect of reproducing biobots can be daunting and mixed. The number of biobots can increase by 2 over a month. It is not clear whether the daughter cells can further reproduce or not.

Questions:

  1. Should the researchers determine whether the daughter cells can also reproduce and why?
  2. What is the benefit or harm of investigating this line of research further?
  3. Should the researchers publish or patent the designs and ideas?
  4. What are the lessons learned?
  5. Any comments: