Scientists at Washington University have been trying to make muscle-like structures for soft robots with surfaces that resemble skin.
After some frustrating experiments, they decided to use real muscles—or, more accurately, real muscle proteins.
Harvesting muscle from mammals wouldn’t work, so the team decided to recruit microbes to make it.
First, the researchers genetically engineered bacteria that make titin, one of three essential muscle proteins, inside their bodies.
Titin is the biggest protein molecule found in nature, so the group further refined their bacteria to stitch together bits of the molecule in polymers about 50 times bigger than the usual bacteria molecules, about as big as the bugs could handle.
After harvesting their titin crop, the developers used a conventional spinning process to spin the polymers into fibers about a tenth the thickness of a human hair.
They then analyzed the fibers to determine the structure that gave them their strength, tested the material, and found it could absorb more energy without breaking than Kevlar, the synthetic fabric used to make bullet-proof vests.
Their process can be scaled commercially at low cost, the engineers said, and they have filed a patent on their creation.
TRENDPOST: The university group will apply their new fiber to making soft muscles for robots. Others will see commercial opportunities in licensing the invention to make, for example, shoelaces that never snap, running shoe soles that last far longer, or new kinds of protective shields for soldiers or police.

Washington University’s new titin fiber made from artificially created muscle protein.
Credit: Washington University

Skip to content