less blood, more robots

Red blood cells fitted with artificial tails

They might look like sperm swimming backwards, but red blood cells have become the first living cells to be fitted with an artificial tail. As the tail whips back and forth, the cell moves tail-first at a cool 6 micrometres per second - about 10 times as slow as sperm swim.

The secret to the cell's motion lies in the composition of the tail - a filament of tiny magnetic beads held rigidly together by strands of DNA. When an oscillating magnetic field is applied to the cells, they move through the fluid as their tails bend to align themselves with the constantly reversing direction of the magnetic field. The microscopic swimmers might one day provide a way to direct medicines through the bloodstream to exactly the right spot.

QuickTime here.

Respirocytes - Designing an Artificial Red Cell

An artificial nanomedical erythrocyte, or "respirocyte" -- intended to duplicate all of the important functions of the red blood cell -- could serve as a universal blood substitute, preserve living tissue, eliminate "the bends," allow for new sports records, and provide treatment for anemia, choking, lung diseases, asphyxia, and other respiratory problems. [...]

The maximum safe augmentation dosage is probably about 1 liter of 50% respirocyte suspension, which puts 954 trillion devices into your bloodstream. You could then hold your breath for 3.8 hours, at the normal resting metabolic rate. At the maximum human metabolic rate, something like a continuous Olympic-class 50-meter dash exertion level, you could go for a full 12 minutes without taking a breath. Afterwards, your entire capacity is recharged by hyperventilating for just 8 minutes - then you're ready to go again. [...]

By sacrificing one entire natural lung to make room in the thorax, a 3250 cm3 nanolung extends oxygen supply to 4-87 hours. A less-conservative nanolung design could allow you to survive for up to 5 days without drawing a breath. [...]

Respirocytes can also relieve the most dangerous hazard of deep sea diving - decompression sickness ("the bends") or caisson disease, caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles in blood as a diver rises to the surface. These bubbles come from gas previously dissolved in the blood at higher pressure at greater depths. Safe decompression procedures normally require up to several hours. But a small therapeutic dose of respirocytes reconfigured to absorb nitrogen instead of O2/CO2 gases could allow safe and complete decompression of an N2-saturated human body from a depth of 26 meters (86 feet) in as little as 1 second.

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18 Responses:

  1. jcterminal says:

    This is good stuff.

    • dasht_brk says:

      when trying to count the levels of irony and sarcasm in this blog. That's so 80's.

      • thumperward says:

        How do you count a level? It's a continuous measurement. Or did you mean that you count to two (one for irony and one for sarcasm) and then stop?

        - Chris

        • dasht_brk says:

          Ooo... zing. No, I just mean that the humor indicates brightness but is too often formulaic and occaisionally so detached from the real world as to be depressing. Bah.... I want to say it inspiringly and in a friendly way and above all non-cynically (to set a refreshing example) and while fully admitting I'm a regular reader cause I get a kick out of it, and no, nobody forces me to read it, and sure, that's a point to it and I really don't want to start an argument .... but.... oh, poo.

          Know what I mean?


        • duskwuff says:

          Try "layers of irony and sarcasm". That better?

  2. duskwuff says:

    Note that the second article is nanowankery, not working technology.

    • autopope says:

      Yes, but think of the military applications!

      I suspect someone's going to get a fat DARPA research contract Real Soon Now.

  3. abates says:

    only one lung? Screw that, fit me up with two!

  4. valacosa says:

    "...allow for new sports records..."

    I'm no doctor, but I'm under the impression that there are plenty of chemicals that allow for "new sports records" now, but using them tends to be frowned upon.

  5. lars_larsen says:

    The problem isnt loosing O2 in the blood when you're holding your breath, its building up CO2. These things would have to absorb it, and put it SOMEWHERE.

    • Part of the system would be little nano-widgets that would magically convert the CO2 into fresh O2 molecules. So you could hold your breath indefinitely.

      Of course, this would leave leftover carbon, which would be spun into carbon nanotubes. These would be stored in little spinnerets on your wrists, allowing you to shoot webs like Spider-Man.

  6. hawke666 says:

    WTF does "ten times as slow mean"? Is that "10 times the speed"? "1/10 the speed"?

    • d1663m says:

      I took it to mean 1/10 as fast as the average sperm. Without watching the video I imagine the tail as a line bowing this way then that, making a shallow C shape rather than the S a sperm might use to swim. A whole group of them all moving synchronously, marching like little german storm troopers.

      That has to look odd.

    • babynutcase says:

      Now we know blood is not only thicker than water, it's slower than sperm too.