Researchers have created the world’s first living robots, artificial organisms able to reproduce and even adapt to various environmental conditions.
The teams of Canadian and Italian scientists, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, took different approaches to creating the living computers. In one setup, the scientists created robots that could multiply and grow on conditions made by their engineers. In the other system, researchers taught the robots to replicate themselves.
Developing such robots, however, has the potential to make the concept of biology more accessible to scientists and engineers, who often look to animals and insects to see how such technology might be able to be used in scientific projects. Living robots could potentially serve in health and medical research laboratories, helping to test the effectiveness of new medicines, cosmetics or cosmetics in tests without invasive surgery.
“I think this is the first moment that live organisms are appropriately a part of our field,” said Dr. Raffaele De Meo, a geneticist at the University of Toronto and the author of a paper describing the robotic system.
The robotic system was created in a lab in Canada and depended on transgenic mice that had been modified to have extra genes to manufacture bacteria and, specifically, microorganism Bacteroidetes. The “programmed cell contractions” would then enable the cells to form a new bacterium. When those bacteria lived in a lab environment, they would repeat the process over and over, until a colony of new bacteria was formed.
In Italy, scientists relied on a similar technology, but with mice that had been genetically modified with the Bacteroidetes program. Then the animals were fed just the right nutrients and placed into a place where they would become microbes in a series of consecutive experiments.
In a roundabout way, the robots seem to be guided by their environment, adapt and grow with it.
Dr. Tommaso Bacone, the lead author of the Italian study, said this was the first time such environments had been simulated in the laboratory. “I think this is the first moment that live organisms are appropriately a part of our field,” he said.
Dr. De Meo agrees.
“You can actually show it, and it’s really fascinating,” he said. “And that’s really the most important thing: We can show this stuff.”