By Justin Worland
May 6, 2015
TIME Health
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Imagine getting an onion transplant to replace an injured muscle. It may sound absurd, but new research published in the journal Applied Physics Letters suggests that onions have ideal properties for use as artificial muscles.

Researchers from the National Taiwan University in Taipei put onions through a variety of tests to measure their potential as artificial muscles. First, the researchers removed a single layer of the inside of the onion. They then freeze-dried the cells to remove water that could cause rupturing later on. Finally, they added small layers if gold to allow the onion to respond to electric current prompting it to move.

In the end, they found that onions bend, contract and elongate in response to external action, just like muscles. When the researchers applied the right voltage to the onion, it would contract and grip a ball of cotton.

Vegetable cells are promising for use in the body because they can perform many of the same functions when they are no longer living, unlike many other cells. “People have tried to use live muscle before. But then how to keep the muscle cells alive becomes a problem. We use vegetable cells because the cell walls provide muscle strength whether the cells are alive or not,” Wen-Pin Shih, a study researcher, told Smithsonian magazine.

Still, researchers say issues remain that may make it difficult to use onions in human beings. For one, the voltage required to trigger the movement may be too high.


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