Turning cockroaches into “cyborgs” may save mankind in the future

In "Star Trek", Borgs are half-organic, half-mechanical cyborgs equipped with a large number of artificial organs and machinery that can assimilate the biological and technological characteristics of other races.

If there are bugs on the Borg ship, it might be a cyborg cockroach.

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Heaven's down on cockroaches

The Madagascar cockroach, which grows to 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) in adulthood, is known as a "climber", and when it senses danger, it squeaks air through a hole in its back.

Scientists have seen their potential to "evolve" into cyborg insects from their stalwart appearance.

An international research team led by Japan's RIKEN Research Institute has designed a system for remote wireless control of cockroaches, recently published in the scientific journal npj Flexible Electronics .

▲ Picture from: CNET

First, the researchers used a specially designed "backpack" to attach awireless leg-control module and a lithium-polymer battery to the cockroach's chest . The electrical pulses stimulated the cockroach's nervous system to control it to move left or right.

The "backpack" is modeled after the body of the model cockroach and 3D printed with elastic polymer, which perfectly fits the curved surface of the cockroach and can be fixed on the chest for more than a month.

Sending and receiving signals requires a continuous power supply, otherwise when the battery is exhausted, the cockroaches can come and go freely, and the picture will make your blood pressure soar.

Therefore, the research team installed an ultra-thin solar cell module to charge the battery on the abdomen of the cockroach, so that it could not escape the palm of the hand. Its power output reaches 17.2 mW, which is about 50 times higher than current state-of-the-art live insect energy harvesting devices.

Taking into account the deformation of the abdomen during movement, so that the solar cell module does not hinder the normal movement of the cockroach, the research team tested many kinds of electronic films, and finally used a 0.004 mm film that is about 17 times thinner than a human hair, which can be about 17 times thinner than a human hair. Abdominal adhesion for one month.

This is also the advantage of this study compared to its cyborg insect predecessors – controlling cockroaches for a longer period of time.

When everything is ready, you can use the wireless remote control system to do whatever you want with the cockroaches remotely. Press the button and you make it turn right, it never turns left.

The research team points out that these cockroaches could one day be used to monitor the environment or search and rescue after disasters, reaching places that are difficult for humans to reach.

But the current research results are only wireless motion control systems, not equipped with sensors and cameras. Among them, the camera needs more power, and even if it can be used, the resolution will be very low.

So, for now, it can only give you a sense of control over your grievances, or use it to scare friends who have been kept in the dark.

Because of the ultra-thin solar cells, we can expect more insects to join in the future, and the research team is optimistic about beetles and cicadas.

Imagine how spectacular the scene will be when humans are talking and laughing and commanding a team of cyborg insects. Provided, of course, that they don't get out of hand.

However, the cockroaches act against their own will, is the process painful? The researchers point out that, according to studies related to insects, cockroaches do not feel pain. Besides, Cantonese cockroaches are very worried about you, and you are not necessarily very worried about it.

The world of cyborg cockroaches that is full of talents

Let's take a look at the "front waves" of the semi-mechanical cockroaches, all of them are not idle.

As early as 2012, researchers at North Carolina State University targeted cockroaches, and the protagonist was also a large Madagascar cockroach.

▲ Picture from: North Carolina State University

When the microcontroller is connected to the cockroach's antennae and rear sensory organs, the resulting electrical charge causes the cockroach to think it has bumped into something, or encountered a threat, and moves in the direction you want it to go, even out of a planned the curve.

The cockroach might think it's its free will, but it's actually being remotely controlled by humans. And what humans expect from it is to find disaster survivors in a small space.

In 2018, a University of Connecticut research team created a microcircuit that controls cockroaches in a way that convinces them they've hit a snag.

An advance over its predecessors is that microcircuits enable more reliable and precise control of cyborg insects.

Specifically, it is able to detect 6 degrees of free motion, linear and rotational acceleration of the cockroach, as well as the surrounding ambient temperature, which also affects how and where the insect moves.

▲ Picture from: the Dutta Lab

Dutta, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Connecticut, has high hopes for it: The cyborg insect has a plethora of useful applications from search and rescue to national defense, but is still in the "larval" stage, and its future high-tech brethren may save yours life.

Cyborg cockroaches have more missions. Around 2013, neuroscientist Greg Gage launched the "cockroach mind controller" RoboRoach as an educational experience to help students gain a preliminary understanding of neural circuits.

▲ Cockroach surgical tools.

There are so many incurable neurological diseases in the world, and there are certain barriers to learning neuroscience. Tools like RoboRoach are designed to allow students to learn neuroscience at an earlier age, some of whom may become problem-solving scientists and engineers.

With the cockroach wearing the control unit, battery and electrodes, students can use a free mobile phone app to micro-stimulate the cockroach's antennal nerves, briefly wirelessly control the cockroach's left-right movements, and record changes in living nervous system tissue.

Greg Gage said it wasn't a very painful experience for the cockroaches, and they adapted quickly. In short, not a single cockroach was harmed in the experiment.

When you put the cockroaches back in the cage for about 20 minutes, they will "forget" the experience, and the stimulation will work again; after about 2 to 7 days, the stimulation will be completely ineffective, the cockroaches will no longer listen to you, and can "get away with it" Return.

It should be reminded that if you want to buy RoboRoach, the cockroaches are not bundled, but you can order the South American cockroaches separately , a box of three.

On the Various Uses of Cockroaches

Living up to the name of "Unkillable Xiaoqiang", besides the cyborg cockroach, there are many ways to use cockroaches.

Let’s start with the one that you may be most unacceptable to.

The protein blocks made of cockroaches in Feng Junhao's "Snowpiercer" vividly reflect the living conditions of the bottom residents. Insects are rich in protein, and cockroaches have strong reproductive ability. If there is really no choice, it is not a bad idea as a doomsday ration.

It is said that Bong Joon-ho's request is that the protein block should be as black as cockroach wings but translucent. It's actually made of kelp and sugar, and many actors, despite knowing it, still struggle to swallow the sticky substance.

The protein block is just acting, but there really is "cockroach bread" in reality.

In 2017, researchers in Brazil introduced a protein-enhanced bread enriched with dried, crushed and sifted grey cockroaches, concluding that "the use of grey cockroach flour is a way to enrich without altering the sensory quality. An effective method for wheat bread".

Just chewing on the bread will make your mouth dry. It's better to drink a cup of "cockroach milk" soup. Yes, unfortunately, "cockroach milk" is also real.

In June 2018, it was reported that the so-called "cockroach milk" mainly comes from a crystal in the body of the Pacific beetle cockroach. The protein of "cockroach milk" is 4 times that of ordinary cow's milk, and it also contains amino acids that promote growth and are needed by the human body. of fats and sugars.

However, extracting secretions from cockroaches is much more difficult than milking cows. Researchers need to open the abdomen of female cockroaches, remove the embryos and internal organs, and then use a pipette to extract the crystalline secretions. It takes 1,000 cockroaches to make 100 g "cockroach milk".

Even if you have the big heart of "The Wilderness", you still have to take risks. It has not been fully proved that "cockroach milk" is completely harmless to the human body.

In the process of fighting with cockroaches, we can probably all understand that the athletic ability of cockroaches should not be underestimated.

This talent is the "muse" of many scientists, as Robert Full, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, put it, "building tomorrow's robots based on the ancient engineering of evolution."

For example, when a cockroach passes through a tiny crack, it can squeeze its body to a height of just two coins and withstand a force of 900 times its body weight. By studying this "extreme performance," as well as the cockroach's flexible exoskeleton and spiny legs, Harvard postdoctoral researcher Kaushik Jayaram has designed the palm-sized robotic CRAM .

CRAM is a compressible robot with an articulated mechanism capable of squeezing into and through cracks half its height, enabling future search and rescue in the rubble of tornadoes, earthquakes and explosions.

Cockroach legs provide ideas for human prosthetics , and their elastic mechanics have inspired the design of gripping motions in robotic hands.

A study by Harvard's Biorobotics Laboratory used cockroach legs to create hands that "slide along an object until it wraps around it," similar to how we lift a coffee cup.

Cockroaches have survived for more than 300 million years and lived in the same era as dinosaurs. They still live and work in places where pathogens are dense, such as sewage pipes and garbage dumps. Their tenacious vitality is no accident. Therefore, in the medical field, cockroaches also have attainments.

When cockroaches detect potentially harmful microbes, their bodies produce proteins that stop the pathogen, the study found.

Over the past decade, scientists have successfully isolated antimicrobial proteins produced by various cockroaches and tested their ability to fight bacterial infections such as Streptococcus, E. coli, Salmonella, and more. To use an inappropriate analogy, cockroaches may be the "superbugs we need to fight superbugs."

▲ Picture from: scienceline

Cockroaches do have many uses, but they still give people goosebumps when they encounter them.

Research is research, life is life, and we don't have to like cockroaches. Perhaps as Kaushik Jayaram put it:

"I don't want cockroaches in my backpack, bedroom, or next to my food. I don't think cockroaches are cute, but they make a great scientific model. Broadly speaking, nature has a huge library of design ideas."

Li Ruoqiushuang, to exorcise evil. Working email: [email protected]

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