National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 61573339, 61304251 and 61503258), and the CAS-SAFEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams.
Algae cells can be considered as microrobots from the perspective of engineering. These organisms not only have a strong reproductive ability but can also sense the environment, harvest energy from the surroundings, and swim very efficiently, accommodating all these functions in a body of size on the order of dozens of micrometers. An interesting topic with respect to random swimming motions of algae cells in a liquid is how to precisely control them as microrobots such that they swim according to manually set routes. This study developed an ingenious method to steer swimming cells based on the phototaxis. The method used a varying light signal to direct the motion of the cells. The swimming trajectory, speed, and force of algae cells were analyzed in detail. Then the algae cell could be controlled to swim back and forth, and traverse a crossroad as a microrobot obeying specific traffic rules. Furthermore, their motions along arbitrarily set trajectories such as zigzag, and triangle were realized successfully under optical control. Robotize algae cells can be used to precisely transport and deliver cargo such as drug particles in microfluidic chip for biomedical treatment and pharmacodynamic analysis. The study findings are expected to bring significant breakthrough in biological drives and new biomedical applications.