updated 1/17/2005 2:40:49 PM ET 2005-01-17T19:40:49

Rat cells grown onto microscopic silicon chips worked as tiny robots, perhaps a first step towards a self-assembling device, researchers working in the United States reported on Sunday.

They described a new method for attaching living cells to silicon chips. They then got the combined entities to move like tiny, primitive legs.

Writing in the journal Nature Materials, Jianzhong Xi, Jacob Schmidt and Carlo Montemagno of the University of California Los Angeles said it is possible to make such devices, starting with a single cell “seeded” on a specially treated silicon chip.

They used rat heart cells in one experiment and created a tiny device that moved on its own as the cells contracted.

A second device looked like a minuscule pair of frog legs.

“A microdevice had two 'legs’ extending from the body at 45-degree angles; each leg had a 'foot’ extending at a 45-degree angle,” the researchers wrote.

It may eventually be possible to grow self-assembling machines using the method, they said.

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