This is a transistor, but not as you know it. Instead of acting as a tiny switch to control the flow of electrons, this devices controls the flow of living cells.
A team of researchers from Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has developed this new device, which trades electrons for cells — that's the blob you can see on the right hand side of the image. Instead of controlling the release of electrons from one circuit stage to another, the team have worked out how to accurately control the movement of cells, which zip around the perimeter of microfludic channels, by varying the currents that keep them in place. You can see the transistor in action in this video.
It's a simple device, sure. But creating a reliable transistor for cells opens up a world of possibilities, where researchers can send live cells along specific paths, usher them down different intersections, and even orchestrate large numbers of them, all moving in unison. As Benjamin Yellen, one of the researchers, explains to PhysOrg:
"Similar to the billions of transistors used to direct the flow of information in computer systems, we aim to develop corollary abilities to direct the flow of single cells in microfluidic systems, albeit at a slightly smaller scale."
They're certainly a step closer. The team now hopes to use the technique to monitor rare cells, to understand causes and treatments of diseases like HIV and cancer.
Image by Duke university