Wednesday, January 19

Bacteria-Controlled Robots Could Be What the Future Looks Like

Humans typically view bacteria as pests — we feel comforted by the fact that a disinfecting wipe will (in theory) kill the majority of the 25,000 bacteria covering just one square inch on a common item, such as a phone in an office.

No one could have predicted that bacteria would be capable of controlling inanimate objects, essentially creating and controlling real-life robots. And yet, one scientist reported recently that this might actually be possible.

According to Phys.org and Wired, scientists haven’t discovered a way to give robots a “brain” so that the machines can think for themselves, but researchers have discovered that it might be possible for bacteria to control behaviors of inanimate objects.

Published on July 16 in the academic journal Scientific Reports, Virginia Tech scientists Warren Ruder explained that there’s a mathematical model capable of demonstrating how bacteria can accomplish this.

Using a specially engineered strain of E.coli, Ruder and his team began experimenting with how small changes in bacterial cells could create specific behaviors in the bacteria. By figuring out how to change the cellular makeup of certain bacteria in a way that produces a specific behavior from the organism, and then linking this behavior with mathematical models that describe the desired behavior of an inanimate robot, Ruder believes that it’s possible to create bacterial strains capable of functioning as robotic brains.

In his experiment, Ruder theorized that color changes in the bacteria could serve as signals for the objects; by equipping a robot with sensors that measure the pigment and intensity of the color, Ruder believes it’s possible that the bacteria would be able to give unique instructions to the objects.

The concept of bacteria-controlled robots is still in its very earliest stages, but as Ruder has stated, many studies have already shown that bacteria are extremely adaptive and intelligent; certain bacteria can already control hormone levels in humans, for example, which causes the person to talk and act in certain way.

If Ruder’s mathematical model is successful, it may lead to some great results: it’s possible that diseases and mental illnesses will be treated by bacteria-based prescriptions, while other bacteria may be capable of sucking up excess oil after an oil spill.

Or maybe it will lead to a robot invasion. Either option seems possible.

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