Feb 24, 2012

Electronics Made From Human Blood Cells Suggest Cyborg Interfaces, Spark Nightmares

By Kit Eaton

If the notion of next-generation electronic components made from actual human blood cells chills you, you may not want to read on. But if you are interested in how future artificial limbs or eyes may be wired up to patients, then this new research will intrigue you.

Memristors are a type of electronic device that you may haven't heard about, since they were conceived theoretically a long time ago. But they're only now becoming plausible in manufacturing--the trick is to modify an electrical current depending on a "signal" in a similar way to a transistor does, only in the case of a memristor the way they behave depends on how they were last activated. They thus have a degree of "memory" that means they behave a little more like your own brain cells do, and this has hardware folk all excited about their potential computing power. A team of scientists in Gujarat has now succeeded in making memristors out of modified human blood cells.

The work involved a macroscopic experiment with a 10 ml. test tube of human blood at 37 Celsius (normally taken as average human body temperature) and two immersed electrodes hooked up to some controlling and measuring electronics. The test proved that the blood's resistance varied in reaction to the applied voltage polarity and size, and the effect was "retained" for at least five minutes--retests within this time frame were dependent on the previous experiment's settings. A second test, also positive, showed the memristor effect was present when blood was actually flowing through the experiment.

In other words, the scientists have shown they can produce a microscopic biological device that would behave in a similar way to a microscopic memristor made from the more usual semiconductor materials you'd associate with a silicon chip. Networks of these bio-memristors could be hooked together to make computing devices, and that's a next step for the research team.

Ultimately, the fact that a biological system could be used to interact with a hard semiconductor system could revolutionize biomechanics. That's because wiring devices like cochlear implants, nerve-triggered artificial limbs and artificial eyeballs into the body at the moment involves a terribly difficult integration of metal wiring--with all the associated risk of infection and rejection. Plus it's really a very promising first step toward making a cyborg. Countdown to military interest in this tech in 5...4...3...