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Insect microfluidic components

Grind bees and pump water through them
  [vote for,

I'm currently struggling with microfluidics. Basically, it's all about making very tiny plumbing, usually in the form of channels etched in a glass wafer or moulded photolithographically in a polymer. The basic idea is to be able to move, fractionate, mix and reacts liquids in very small volumes.

Typically, the devices have dimensions on the scale of tens of microns (channel widths, that is; complete circuits may be a few millimetres across). The problem is that these things are buggers to work with, in almost every respect. For instance, some surfaces may need to be hydrophobic and others hydrophilic; you may want to mix liquids whereas the laminar flow on that scale makes this very difficult; you may need to create a tiny nozzle, but fully three-dimensional structures are difficult to make by conventional means.


I suggest that we look upon insects as living component resources. They have tubes, nozzles, valves, mixers, splitters and all kinds of fluid-handling equipment designed to operate at the right dimensions and flow-rates. They also understand surface properties, and create surfaces which are hydrophobic (even superhydrophobic) or hydrophilic, are resistant to crudding, and so on. Best of all, many of these components are made of chitin, which is a reasonable engineering material and can be chemically modified if necessary (I have the world's most water-repellant flour- beetle in my lab if anyone wants it).

The other great thing about insects is that most individuals of a given species grow to the same size, within a close tolerance.

We first need some entomological engineers to dismantle a range of insects and build a catalogue of parts, along with dimensions and tolerances. We then need to create a facility somewhere to breed the relevant species under controlled conditions, dismantle them, and prepare the parts for shipping.

You need a 15 micron sharp-edged nozzle with a hydrophobic surface, for droplet delivery? No problem! Just order an Anopheles gambiae piercing mouthpiece (adult). How to couple this to your inlet...ah yes, a European wasp foreleg second metatarsal segment will fit nicely. Order a couple of spare Tegenaria domestica (third moult) pedipalps and some pea-aphid spiracle filters and you're all set.

Of course, all this will be way too big for the nanotech guys. For them, there is a diverse range of diatoms available, each intricately crafted in pure silica.

MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2008

[1] Ant mimicry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_mimicry
[Ian Tindale, Mar 07 2008]

Small Parts, Inc. http://www.smallparts.com/
Like this, only smaller. [jutta, Mar 07 2008]

Micronit http://www.micronit...rofluidic_chips.php
Exactly. Like this, in fact, only smaller still. [MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2008]

A little image collection http://www4.nau.edu/electron/SEM_img.htm
[Amos Kito, Mar 08 2008]

Lab-on-a-Chip Made of Paper http://www.technolo....com/Biotech/20771/
"Paper-based microfluidic devices could yield cheap, disposable diagnostic tests." [Ian Tindale, May 20 2008]

Microfluidics http://en.wikipedia.../wiki/Microfluidics
[swimswim, Jul 01 2009]


       How would you counter the inevitable counterfeit products in this new market? For example, you order the temporal display cortex of a Leptomyrmex ant, and end up with the product barcode scanner from an infantile Extatosoma tiaratum stick insect instead. [1]
Ian Tindale, Mar 07 2008

       The problem would be much less than you imagine - these are not ppoular consumer items. If I order Upchurch nanoport ferrules from Presearch (and, let's face it, who doesn't), they are unlikely to supply me with Chinese knock-offs, even though the possiblity and incentive are there.   

       Also, as an aside, I should point out that I'm not proposing to use living insect tissue (as your anno implied) - that's much more difficult. I am simply proposing that we look at insect bodies as reservoirs of fairly well- standardized, well-made mechanical components with useful properties.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2008

       "Did you know that an ant has two miles of tubing inside it?" Peter Sellers.
xenzag, Mar 07 2008

       is this a treon thing? give the guy a break
po, Mar 07 2008

       No it bloody isn't! I used capitals an punctuation an..an..EVrything. It's quasi- earnest. There are certainly cases where a gnat's penis could have a valid use beyond impregnating another gnat.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2008

       An agony gnat - for insect confessions of course!
xenzag, Mar 07 2008

       I am and have always been fascinated by insects and their structures. As an engineer with a respectable background in fluid dynamics, I can see how insects could provide outstanding working examples of otherwise very difficult enginnering challenges   

       I fully understand what maxwell is saying. I am retired now and have no more access to labs and testing facilities. But, I truly am in admiration and a bit envious of scientific explorere today working in such fascinating fields. I beleive we are now on the verge of astounding breakthroughs in science that will make us all feel like we have been shot though a time barrier into the future.   

       Great post maxwell...and I wish you good fortune in your endeavors.
Blisterbob, Mar 08 2008

       Having some experience with mucking around in the guts of aedes aegypti i'm not sure of the merits of this idea. Removing structures intact takes time and very carefully grown and killed specimins. Further, functional structures degrade rapidly ex-situ unless kept under very controled conditions. I like the idea but I suspect that copying may actually be easier than trying to vivsect a tool out of mixed parts.
WcW, Mar 08 2008

       Ah - so it's halfbaked then?
xenzag, Mar 08 2008

       [Blisterbob] many thanks! I believe you're right, in that everything is going exponential in several fields at the moment. Microfluidics is excellent fun, especially for a professional dabbler such as myself, because it's a fairly new field and there's still lots of room to play.   

       [WcW] point taken. What about chitinous parts - the parts I'm interested in? What would happen if you soaked your insect in a protease for a while - wouldn't this leave behind disconnected exoskeletal components? And, regarding their longevity, perhaps they could be used as moulds for casting replicas in PDMS or some other more stable material? (Straw-grasping here....)
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       Intact chitinous structures should work well for a long time. Boring and piercing mouthparts, boring ovopositors, stingers, and the mouthparts of butterfies are some good usefull exmples. Valves and other flexible componants are not going to remain usefull for very long. If you want complicated structures with unique surface properites then instects are a great place to look. Im a bun here.
WcW, Mar 08 2008

       That's what I was hoping. I suspect there are also some chitinous valves, but their flexible components would need to be replaced. The surface properties of some insect parts, in particular, are amazing - they do a very good line in superhydrophobicity.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2008

       // They also understand surface properties //   

       Goodness. No wonder Blisterbob was forced to retire.
BunsenHoneydew, Mar 09 2008

       Lovely (+) ..and I don't say that very often. In so many fields - structural engineering, fluida, optics, signal processing, you name it - we are still miles behind replicating the level of sophistication that evolution has produced in the natural world.
ConsulFlaminicus, Mar 10 2008

       ...although we do better at reentry devices.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 10 2008

       And we've got wheels.
Ian Tindale, Mar 10 2008

       Yes, but they don't have limited slip differential.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 10 2008

       " There are certainly cases where a gnat's penis could have a valid use "   

       I don't imagine that one will make it to the tagline bank.
normzone, Mar 10 2008

       finally! I have a use for my painstakingly gathered collection of butterfly spiracles! *cackles hand-dryingly*   

       can't we just genetically modify/selectively breed insects that have external chitinous tubes with no growth-factor 'off' switch? The proboscis/etc would just keep growing and growing, being extruded from basal cells, and every few days you could a) capture the thing and harvest a length of tubing - or b) kill it, and just get longer tubing. It'd be like a tiny ranch; there could be competitions to lasso bumblebees with floss!
navel-gazer, Mar 10 2008

       // there could be competitions to lasso bumblebees with floss!// [gazer], if you're not going to take this seriously, you can wait outside.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 10 2008

       well sorrr--eee, MB; the rot set in with the gnat's penis remark - in years to come, historians of the halfbakery will trace the decline back to that moment. da da dum.   

       but seriously(ish) - super-tubular insect phenotypes?
navel-gazer, Mar 10 2008

       Hmmm... custom-bred insects - yes, a distinct pissibolity...
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 11 2008

       So you've perked my interest; in what applications can one find microfluidics as a use?
RayfordSteele, Mar 11 2008

WcW, Jul 01 2009

       [21], I hope you're pulling my leg. If it comes off, I have seven more just like it.
normzone, Jul 01 2009

       //I can't condone breeding something just so you can kill it and make stuff out of it.//   

       Do you have any wooden furniture?
Wrongfellow, Jul 02 2009

       Nice idea - I fear though that to make it cost-effective, you'd have to find a market outside lab researchers. For example if you were to develop an inkjet printing technology that relied on the exact mechanical and chemical properties of a mosquito's proboscis, then as well as mosquito probosci being collected in their millions for the inkjet cartridge market, they'd be available at a minimal cost for lab work too
hippo, Jul 02 2009

       There's probably a market for a superhydrophobic hat - i.e. one coated in the superhydrophobic bits from millions of insects.
hippo, Jul 02 2009

Are we back to gnats' penises again?
coprocephalous, Jul 02 2009

       Your unsteamed colleague here. Microfluidics is starting to be widely used in molecular biology (and probably other fields; I know of some some chemical applications), mainly to work with either very small samples or very valuable reagents. For instance, you can create droplets of aqueous reaction mixes in oil, all travelling along a channel; each droplet serves as a self-contained reaction chamber, with a volume of picolitres or femtolitres. This is a big deal, for example, when screening compound libraries, or when doing in-vitro evolution.   

       There aren't many consumer products yet, but there will be.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 02 2009

       [marked-for-tagline] Are we back to gnat's penises again?
kindachewy, Jul 02 2009

       This idea really bugs me. Beetles me why antibody thinks this one would fly.
normzone, Jul 02 2009

       No need to get all antsy about it - that's just not cricket. I spider nopportunity, and figured it would beetle ate if I left it any longer before posting. Would someone else steal the idea? Someone would, louse.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 02 2009

       Ah - well. Pharmaeceutical companies screen huge libraries of compounds for binding activity to various drug targets. The process is slow and costly, and uses up the very expensive library. There are moves to do this in microfluidics (for example, using one sub-nanolitre droplet for each assay).   

       And the bunker is oak-panelled, actually.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 03 2009

       This is a good idea. As a home owner whose place is often invaded by ants I would suggest to enlist ants in aid of your disassembly of chitinous structures process. Ants eat large quantities of insects but, critically, not the chitinous parts. The leeetle buggers then leave veritable mountains of dissasembled insect parts outside their nests.   

       It is simple to imagine rows upon rows of glassed-in ant colonies each given access to only a single different species of insect where you could periodically vacuum up the detritus from around their nest openings for sorting and sale.   

       Everyone wins. The ants get a free home complete with neverending food supply, the source insects could be permitted to live out their natural lifespans - as ants are as happy with a dead flour-beetle as a live one (neatly getting around [21 Quest]'s objection) - and we have a cheap source of tiny tubules and whatnot for our deserving community of micro-fluid dynamicists.
AusCan531, Jan 30 2012

       That I like.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 31 2012


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