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HOME > No.18, Sep 2019 > Harnessing Microorganisms for Smart Microsystems

Harnessing Microorganisms for Smart Microsystems

Vorticella autonomously converts its linear motion to rotation By Moeto Nagai
Chirality of vitamin-D derivative affects the protonation states of its receptor protein

A research team led by Dr. Moeto Nagai of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology has developed a method to construct a bio-hybrid system that incorporates Vorticella microorganisms. The method allows movable structures to be formed in a microchannel and harnessed to Vorticella. The bio-hybrid system demonstrates the conversion of motion from linear motion to rotation. These fundamental technologies help researchers to create wearable smart microsystems by using autonomous microorganisms. The results of their research were published in the IEEE/ASME Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems on April 11, 2019.

Complex control systems are required for the operation of smart microsystems, but yet they need to be as small as possible. It is thought that cells may be applicable as alternatives for these complex control systems. This is because a cell integrates many functions in its body and responds to its surrounding environment, they are intelligent and can be used in smart micromechanical systems.

In particular, Vorticella convallaria has a stalk (approximately 100 μm in length) that contracts and relaxes, and it works as an autonomous linear actuator. The combination of stalks and movable structures will form an autonomous microsystem. However, the construction of biohybrid systems in a microchannel is difficult, as it is necessary to establish a cell patterning method and a biocompatible assembly process for the structure and cell.

Structure Integration and Motion Conversion by Vorticella: A free-floating component is harnessed to Vorticella and the component is autonomously rotated and returned by means of a biohybrid approach.

The research team has developed a method to construct a biohybrid system that incorporates Vorticella. "Harnessing microorganisms requires that a batch assembly method be applied to the movable components in a microchannel. It is necessary to pattern a water-soluble sacrificial layer and confine the movable components in a microchannel," says Moeto Nagai, a lecturer at Toyohashi University of Technology and the leader of the research team. Vorticella cells were placed around blocks in the channel by applying magnetic force. These processes were applied to demonstrate how Vorticella converts the motion of a movable component.

Fig.1 Harnessing a structure to Vorticella: Integration of a structure with Vorticella (Upper, A, B). Repetitive movement of a structure due to the force of Vorticella and flow (Lower, C, D).

"The concept of harnessing a component to a microorganism seems simple, but it is difficult for even a microfabrication expert to make harnesses that can follow the motions of microorganisms. Hazardous chemicals should be avoided, and a multidisciplinary approach should be taken," says Nagai. His group is familiar with microfabrication and has conducted considerable research in the field of microbiology. They found a biocompatible approach for making and releasing harnesses in a microchannel.

After permeabilized treatment, Vorticella stalks respond to changes in calcium ion concentration, and they can operate as calcium ion-responsive valves. The research team believes that calcium ion-sensitive motors of Vorticella will facilitate the realization of autonomous fluidic valves, regulators, and mixers, as well as wearable smart microsystems, such as an automated insulin infusion pump for diabetes.

Fig.2 Calcium-responsive valve actuated by Vorticella: A channel is closed at low calcium-ion concentration (Left). Vorticella opens the channel at high calcium-ion concentration (Right).

This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI (Grant Number 22810012, 25820087), the Ebara Hatakeyama Memorial Foundation, and The Foundation for the Promotion of Ion Engineering.


Moeto Nagai, Kohei Tanizaki, Takayuki Shibata (2019). Batch Assembly of SU-8 Movable Components in Channel Under Mild Conditions for Dynamic Microsystems:
Application to Biohybrid Systems, IEEE/ASME Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems,


By 永井 萌土







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Researcher Profile

Moeto Nagai
Name Moeto Nagai
Affiliation Department of Mechanical Engineering
Title Lecturer
Fields of Research BioMEMS/ Biohybrid System/ Micro-Nano Mechatronics/ MicroTAS/ Biofabrication, Micromachining