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Gizmorama - August 1, 2018

Good Morning,


Microbots have been designed to "explore hard-to-reach passageways" within the body. It's like the 'Fantastic Voyage', right?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,
Erin


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*-- Microbots capable of sensing environs could explore intestines, pipelines --*

Engineers at MIT have designed tiny, new robots capable of sensing their surroundings. The microbots, roughly the size of a human egg cell, could be used to explore hard-to-reach passageways, like the human intestines or a gas pipeline.

Scientists designed the tiny robots by coupling electric circuitry to colloids, a mixture feating insoluble particles so small they never settle in water or air. Colloid particles always remains dispersed.

"We wanted to figure out methods to graft complete, intact electronic circuits onto colloidal particles," Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering, told MIT News.

Researchers have previously tried to turn small particles or molecules into robots, but scientists have mostly focused their efforts on improving the mobility of microbots. The team of engineers at MIT wanted to make more functional microbots.

The new microbots' circuitry allows the cell-sized robots to sense their surroundings, store data and compute basic tasks. A small photodiode provides each bot's circuit with a tiny bit of electricity, enough to sense the surrounding environment and record its observations.

Instead of using a traditional microchip, which need to be attached to hard-bodied substrate, researchers developed a circuit out of thin, flexible materials, like graphene. The circuits need only a tiny bit of energy to perform. Their flexibility also allowed them to be attached to colloid particles, which are subjected to a complex array of forces when suspended in liquid or gas.

Researchers described their novel microbots -- the smallest capable of sensing their surroundings -- this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The robots could eventually be used to develop less invasive colonoscopies. They could also be used to search for structural vulnerabilities inside oil and gas pipelines.

Ultimately, scientists hope other researchers will improve upon their methods and come up with new ways to utilize the robotics technology.

"We see this paper as the introduction of a new field [in robotics]," Strano said.



*-- New method screens hundreds of chemicals in blood simultaneously --*

Scientists have developed a way to screen several hundred chemicals at one time in blood, offering promise in better assessing chemical exposures in pregnant woman.

Scanning 696 chemicals in a study, researchers at the University of California San Francisco found an average of 56 environmental organic acids in the blood of pregnant participants in San Francisco. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Six of those confirmed acids "may be of high priority for future biomonitoring among pregnant women, the researchers wrote.

"As we suspected, more chemicals are present in pregnant women than previously identified, some of which may be hazardous to the developing fetus and to adults," study author Dr. Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF, said in a press release. "This also helps us prioritize chemicals for further study and prevention

A technique known as high-resolution mass spectrometry identified chemicals by their molecular weight from blood samples. They were able to scan a larger number of chemicals at once than previous methods of about a dozen at a time.

"Screening for chemicals in a person is like finding needles in a haystack -- there are thousands of chemicals in blood that come from different sources, so we need an efficient method to find those that matter," study first author Dr. Aolin Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, said.

The new method screens for environmental organic acids -- compounds with at least one ionizable proton. They are widely used in pesticides and consumer products and others have chemical structures similar to hormones, including bisphenol-A, methylparaben and triclosan.

By causing endocrine disruption, they are dangerous to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. These chemicals can be found in contaminated food and water, or even by breathing contaminated air and dust.

The researchers compiled a chemical database of EOAs from a variety of publicly available sources.

They examined blood collected from pregnant women at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, which serves mostly low-income women of color who do not have health insurance; and UCSF Mission Bay Medical Center, which serves an economically and ethnically diverse population.

"Our findings indicate numerous chemical exposures across the populations of pregnant women studied," study author Dr. Rachel Morello-Frosh, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at University of California Berkeley. "Additionally, low-income women and women of color often face a disproportionate burden of social and environmental stressors that are linked to poor health outcomes."

Using a more refined method to confirm a subset of chemicals, they found six ones that had not been previously documented in pregnant women's blood -- 2,4-Dinitrophenol and pyrocatechol, which may cause genetic defects, harm fertility or damage the fetus, or have carcinogenic effects.

And 2,4-Di-tert-butylphenol, a widely detected estrogenic compound, is used in food-related plastic products, as well as plastic pipes and water bottles.

"Our success with the current suspect screening approach indicates that this method can provide new insights regarding human exposures to potentially dangerous chemicals," Woodruff said. "Our results raise concerns about pregnant women's chemical exposures and can be used to inform evidence-based approaches to protect human health."

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