The Cyborg Stingray has Arrived

Genetically engineered bio-hybrids blending nature and machine could change the future.

 

I live in Boston, and one of my favorite places to visit is The New England Aquarium, but never during any of my trips to see the marine life did I think about creating a cyborg stingray made from the heart of a rat. But Harvard professor Kevin Kit Parker did.

Parker, an Army major who now directs a team at Harvard University's Disease Biophysics Group, created the translucent, penny-sized ray with a gold skeleton and silicone fins layered with the heart muscle cells of a rat. According to an article in phys.org, the cyborg stingray has been genetically-engineered to respond to a blinking blue light, which scientists use to control the ray’s body, causing it to gracefully swim like a real ray or skate.

The cyborg stingray research team, also led by researcher Sung-Jin Park, launched the project as a method for learning more about the human heart as scientists move toward the goal of building an artificial one. But the interdisciplinary project is also generating interest in other fields, from marine biology to robotics.

In fact, this is just one of many projects Parker and his team are working on in the field of “bio-hybrid” machines—things comprised of synthetic parts and living materials. Much of his motivation comes from his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Parker was profiled on 60 Minutes talking about how his team is working on new solutions for the worst problems of war. The solutions range from cuttlefish skin cells to create better camouflage to the use of a cotton candy machine to help build a better wound dressing.

Wow. Okay. I need to think a bit more when I go to the aquarium.

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