A feature of science fiction stories for decades, nanorobot potential ranges from cancer diagnosis and drug delivery to tissue repair and more. A major hurdle to these endeavors, however, is finding a way to cheaply make a propulsion system for these devices. New developments may now propel nanoswimmers from science fiction to reality thanks to unexpected help from bacteria.
An international research team has demonstrated a new technique for plating silica onto flagella, the helix-shaped tails found on many bacteria, to produce nanoscale swimming robots. As reported this week in APL Materials (“Biotemplated flagellar nanoswimmers”), the group’s biotemplated nanoswimmers spin their flagella thanks to rotating magnetic fields and can perform nearly as well as living bacteria.
“We have shown for the first time the ability to use bacterial flagella as a template for building inorganic helices,” said Min Jun Kim, one of the authors of the paper. “This is quite a transformative idea and will have a great impact on not only medicine but also other fields.”