Robot Sperm May Be Able to Fertilize Human Eggs
The design has a metal-coated head, and a flexible body which is about six times longer than a human sperm. The new MagnetoSperm is made from a strong but flexible polymer, with the metal layer adhered to the head using a technique called electron beam evaporation. Using a magnetic field no stronger than a fridge magnet, scientists made the robot "swim" forward and steered it towards a fixed point. The metal element is forced to move in different directions when the device is placed into a moving field, produced by electromagnetic coils.
According to Dr. Misra of the University of Twente, the steering ability is fairly precise: "The magnetic head is used to orient it in a certain direction, and then, just by flapping its tail, it starts to move forward." This is akin to real sperm, which moves using its whip-like flagellum, or tail. However, unlike biological sperm, "the flapping happens because we [scientists] change the current in the coils."
But building this incredible machine was no easy feat. The process was arduous - phases included coupling a magnetic tail to a red blood cell, and manipulating real sperm by steering them into metal microtubes.
Dr. Matthew Baker of Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute contends that the MagnetoSperm is actually not a robot in the strictest sense of the word: "It's just a piece of metal and it's the field that's doing the hard work. The clever part is the oscillating, small, tunable magnetic field."
Although more work needs to be done in order to make this machine more efficient, the creation of MagnetoSperm opens up applications from targeted drug delivery to in-vitro fertilization.