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Cyborg Moths Created in Lab

Aug 22, 2014 10:51 AM EDT

Researchers are literally lacing electronics through living moths, making "biobots" that could one day redefine the face of search-and-rescue operations. This early work in what seems like the beginnings of the cyborg technology from science fiction is detailed in a recent study.

The study, published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), presents a new technique for introducing electronic components to living insects - namely installing electrodes while a moth is still developing in its papal stage.

According to the study, these electrodes are carefully placed in very specific parts of the developing moth's body, attaching to muscle groups responsible for controlling the insect's flight.

As of now, the signals to the electrodes can learn key reponses, but the researchers cannot truly control a cyborg moth's flight just yet.

"By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we're getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air," Alper Bozkurt, an author of the study, explained in a recent release.

"We're optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight," Bozkurt added. "That's essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network."

While controlling a living thing through implanted electronics may seem a bit villainous, the researchers actually have a noble goal in mind. Bozkurt and his team hope to revolutionize search-and-rescue operations.

"The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster," he explained.

Experts have long been discussing the use of tiny flying drones to achieve this same goal, but the trouble with drones is that their mastery of flight isn't quite up-to-par with nature.

The new study addresses this problem, revealing the secrets to natural flight while using that flight directly. Still, the researchers have a long way to go before we see remote-controlled moths flying over our heads.

Skip to 1:42 for a full demonstration of the moth in flight.

[Credit: iBionicSLab/JOVE/Bozkurt et al 2014]

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