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Cybernetics designers have long tended to copy successful anatomical features from living creatures. Now nano-robotics boffins are getting in on the act, seeking to make use of the process which drives sperm.

Apparently your regular sperm makes use of a process called "glycolysis" to generate energy with which to swim tremendously long distances (relative to its size). Brainboxes at Cornell University aim to replicate this process for use in powering "nanoscale robots".

"Our idea is not the final product but rather an energy-delivery system," said Alex Travis of the Cornell veterinary school. The research was presented on Monday at the American Society for Cell Biology's annual meeting.

It seems that sperm make use of ten different enzyme processes in the "fibrous sheath" that encases their tail to make glycolysis happen. Travis and his pals have cracked only three of these stages in a way that can be replicated on a chip, but they consider this to be "proof of principle".

Indeed, the Cornell researchers believe that miniscule spunk-drive robomachines could one day be widespread, and earn big money for their inventors. Potential uses would include the targeting of specific cells within a body - not unlike what sperm do normally, in fact.

Now the boffins just need someone to get in bed with them.

"We have a provisional patent, so if a company shows interest, we could work something out with them," said Travis.

Or, of course, the Cornell boffins could become owner-operators.

A tad more (as it were) from the University magazine can be read here. ®

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