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Gold In Tech: Tiny Golden ‘Robots’ Can Cleanse Your Blood

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It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie – tiny robots zipping around through your veins zapping dangerous microbes. Except this isn’t some fictional scenario out of a Star Trek movie. It’s real-life technology thanks to gold.

Scientists have developed gold “robots” coated with a membrane that neutralizes dangerous pathogens such as MRSA.

This is just the latest in a growing list of technological applications for the yellow metal.

Professor Liangfang Zhang and his associates at the University of California San Diego developed these tiny robots. The scientists started with microscopic lengths of gold nanowire and used a chemical process to coat them with a hybrid of platelet and red blood cells. The tiny fibers can then be injected into the bloodstream and propelled by ultrasound.

These coated nanobots measure approximately one twenty-fifth the size of the width of a human hair. When subjected to ultrasound, the bots can travel through blood at a rate of 35 micrometers per second. As they move through the blood, pathogens bond to surface proteins in the platelet membranes. Meanwhile, the red blood cell membranes neutralize toxins created by the bacteria.

Researchers say in tests, the micro-robots reduced the number of bacteria in MRSA-tainted blood by two-thirds within five minutes. They plan to begin testing the bots in animals in the near future.

Wang told New Atlas that the tiny robots could be used to treat a variety of bacteria-related conditions.

By integrating natural cell coatings onto synthetic nanomachines, we can impart new capabilities on tiny robots such as removal of pathogens and toxins from the body and from other matrices. This is a proof-of-concept platform for diverse therapeutic and biodetoxification applications.”

This is just one of many recent tech developments utilizing the gold in the field of medicine. Gold nanoparticles are being used to treat cancer and to help diagnose other diseases. Gold may even help restore eyesight.

More broadly speaking, the technology sector has an increasing appetite for gold. The demand for the yellow metal in the tech sector logged its sixth consecutive quarter of gains in Q1 2018. Overall, demand for gold in technology and industry increased 4% to 82 tons year-on-year.

The use of gold in the field of medicine makes up just a small part of that demand. Gold needed for the production of computers and electronics generates the most industrial demand. It grew 5% year-on-year to 65.3 tons in Q1 2018Sustained demand for gold bonding wire, as well as for gold used in wireless and Printed Circuit Board (PCB) served as a primary driver.

We generally think of gold as an investment as well as money, but it is increasingly being used in technology and industry. Demand for gold in the technology sector has been growing since 2016 and that growth is continuing to accelerate due to new innovations like these nanobots. Increased demand in these sectors will likely put upward pressure on overall demand for gold in the future.

The amount of gold used in technology was roughly equal to the amount purchased by central banks between 2010 and 2016. This fundamental driver of demand will only increase the overall value of the yellow metal.

Photo: Esteban-Fernández de Ávila/Science Robotics

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