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Biological Machinery i.e. living pumps

  1. Mar 14, 2015 #1
    In my exercise physiology class we are discussing the amazing work that the human heart performs over a lifetime, even over a single day. My text book says that the fluid output of the heart exceeds that of a household faucet turned wide open (Katch, McArdle, Katch). With the invention of the 3-D printers I wonder what are the limitation to making biological machines that have the ability to regenerate cells. A simple example would be a 2-chamber heart like pump only the size of a car engine. Instead of electricity or fossil fuel a hose would feed it nutrients.
    Is this outlandish? has anyone heard of any recent projects in this area? what are some limitations you see?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2015 #2
    I'm not sure entirely what you're getting at, but are you talking about replacing a car engine with a model similar to that of a heart? Because while I know very little about the engine of a car, I don't think the two would be interchangeable. Physiology is only one facet of the chemical, mechanical and biological processes of the human body. If you were to create a design of this nature, there would be a multitude of things you'd need to consider, such as: the nutrients being absorbed and distributed to the other parts of the car to function, the essential "upkeep" for the car to function (this is done with the homeostatic processes in the human body), and what would constitute as nutrients for a car. Such a design would be too complicated to just simply replace the internal combustion engine.
  4. Mar 15, 2015 #3
    I did not mean anything of that sort, replacing an actual combustion engine with a biological machine. Rather replace an existing pump with a biological pump. The car reference was just thinking of making the pump larger -the size of an engine not the size of a heart.
  5. Mar 15, 2015 #4


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    That's a bit of an exaggeration -- high by almost a factor of two. A standard faucet is 9.5 l/min (in the US anyway, as a matter of code) whereas the heart averages 5.5 and peaks at about 8 l/min. In addition, the pressure available at a faucet is a good 10-20 times what a human heart can produce.
  6. Mar 16, 2015 #5
    I appreciate your response and believe you may be correct about fluid output, but so far as pressure is concerned that is an exaggeration as well, much greater one though. Normal resting blood pressure 120 psi, standard interior faucet 40-60psi.

    Still I have yet to receive a comment really pertaining to my question. I take this to mean I did a poor job wording my thoughts. I am primarily concerned with the future possibilities of biological machinery that has some - not all the qualities of living organisms - e.g. the ability to regenerate after wear and tear being the main, and possibly that to grow in response to stresses.
  7. Mar 16, 2015 #6


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    We can't know what the future has in store so speculating can be pointless. However there are plenty of examples of biological machinery in use now and those currently under development in labs. Nothing akin to a biological engine but there's recombinant DNA technology (used to manufacture proteins using genetically modified bacteria; the basis for insulin production for diabetics), viral production of wires, synbio vanillin production and the whole field of regenerative medicine looking to grow human tissues for transplant. The EU has a term encompassing biotechniology for manufacturing (amongst other things): The Knowledge Based Bio Economy. You could look into that for other ideas of projects that are looking at using biological systems for commercial products. Aside from the medicine aspect it's all using biological systems for manufacturing, generally not the end product itself. But it's as close an answer to your question as I think can be given at this stage.
  8. Mar 16, 2015 #7


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    If the human blood were at 120 psi you would burst like an overinflated tyre. Where did you get that figure from? It's almost an order of magnitude out.

    My unresearched thoughts:
    The single greatest obstacle is that biological systems are generally inefficient, muscles are around 20% efficient, electric motors can be 98%.
    eg a biological pump uses 5 times as much energy to pump a given flow & head. Over the life of a pump energy costs are usually many times greater than the initial cost of the pump so 'self healing' has little appeal when the efficiency is low.

    Most traditional pumps are much simpler than the heart. Traditional pumps can last for decades.
    electric power is easy to transmit. Trucking or pumping 'nutrient juice' to industry will require new infrastructure and greater transmission losses.
    We'd need to commit massive amounts of land to nutrient juice production (see "ILUC")
    We'd still need traditional pumps for toxic & corrosive fluids.

    I'm not saying there are no uses for biological machines but I don't think they'll ever be in widespread use.
  9. Mar 18, 2015 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    That was a units error: blood pressure is measured in milimeters of mercury.
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