The Nerve!

Are cockroaches lending a helping hand?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

I know – technically cockroaches don’t have hands… But they do have legs, and they’re revolutionizing prosthetic limbs. How?

Yeongin Kim and colleagues at Stanford University have created an artificial nerve. It senses touch AND communicates with other nerves. It behaves just like real cells in our bodies.

How does it work? A series of sensors on the artificial nerve pick up on pressure applied to them. Kind of like the pressure on our fingers when we touch something. That sense is then converted into electrical pulses that mimic patterns produced by REAL nerve cells.

The researchers attached their artificial neuron to a REAL one in a cockroach’s leg. Signals from the artificial neuron caused muscles in the leg to contract …and the leg moved!

The artificial nerves could someday provide a sensation of touch to humans who wear prosthetics! This could help them better control their prosthetics. And these artificial nerves are cheap and easy to make.

So, “thank you, cockroaches!” But you’re still not allowed in my house!