If you are the marvel fan, you may have been very well aware of vision character. If not, let me tell you, vision is a synthezoid or say, synthetic human, who is a member of the Avengers and constantly striving to be more human. In the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Vision is based on advanced robotics and bioengineering technologies. However, his body contains biological cells, and his external appearance consists of eyes, a mouth, a nose, teeth, and fingernails; traditional human attributes. Unlike humans, Vision does not eat as his metabolic energy requirements are met by a fictional alien artefact known as the “Mind Stone”. Nonetheless, given that Vision has eyes and a tongue, could he also have other organs? Does his body contain the organs for a synthetic digestive system? And if so, how would these organs meet his body’s metabolic energy needs?
Now, Falk J. Tauber & Barry W. Fitzgerald showed how advancements in soft robotics and the development of biocompatible self-actuating and self-sensing materials can be combined to build an artificial digestive system for marvel’s vision. Their study recently appeared in the Journal Superhero Science and Technology.
How It Can Be Built?
It is built from a combination of the various systems: the SBPP (silicone based biomimetic peristaltic pump) as an artificial oesophagus, intestines, and for the rectum, and the SoGut system as an artificial stomach (as shown in fig. 1). The structured inner conduits of intestines are lined with tissue scaffolds growing epithelial tissue cells forming folds and villi. Beneath the scaffold layer is network of microfluidic channels imitating a circulatory system, with together with the tissue cells an organ-on-a-chip like system.
“Even defecating would be possible with the SBPP system, which would allow Vision to rid his body of digestive waste products, just like the other Avengers.”
Can We Use All These Devices To Build A Synthetic Digestive System Today?
Well, not yet. But why?
Guys, the main role of our digestive system is to convert food into energy. In this process, the food must be decomposed and metabolised. The mechanical part of the decomposition is possible with today’s soft robotic-based systems, and a living biofilm and tissue cells is a first step towards metabolisation. However, there are many more factors to consider.
For example, specific digestive juices are produced by glands that break down and decompose foods with the help of acids and enzymes, in addition to mechanical breakdown. As a result, food is broken down into its components such that the body’s cells can use them as an energy source. In Vision’s case, this energy could also come from electrochemical reactions in a microbial fuel cell (MFC) system powered by food. Though a hydrogen fuel cell would cover Vision basal energy needs, to have sufficient energy to fight villains, Vision would need a more sustainable energy source, which could be provided by an artificial digestive system.
What else would be needed?
The system would also need to transmit and communicate information to Vision’s “brain” so that Vision could experience hunger or even butterflies in his stomach. For this, Vision’s digestive system would also need chemical- and mechanoreceptors and sensors. In humans, common triggers for hunger are blood glucose and insulin levels as glucose is one of the main sources of metabolic energy. Another stimulus would be signals associated with mechano- and chemoreceptors, which sense whether food is currently in the stomach or intestine and send signals to the brain for replenishment. This is a very strong simplification of the highly complex processes. Overall, Vision would not only need a fully artificial digestive system, but also complimentary nervous and circulatory systems.
How would humanity benefit from the development of an artificial digestive system?
First, these systems could serve as prostheses and provide replacements for key organs in the digestive system. Second, these systems could be used in the development of food for dysphagia patients. Third, these systems could be used in the clinical treatment of patients with digestion problems.
“These technologies could conceivably have a positive impact on the fields of healthcare and energy. In the meantime, plans for an artificial digestive system that provides sufficient energy to sustain a synthezoid like the MCU’s Vision are still very much a work in progress.”— they concluded.
Reference: Tauber, F., & Fitzgerald, B. W. (2021). How to build a synthetic digestive system for Marvel’s Vision. Superhero Science and Technology, 2(2), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.24413/sst.2021.2.5636
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