Bacterial brain for robots, to start with... // EIT Digital

Bacterial brain for robots, to start with...

Computational Simulation of microbiome-host interactions. (A) A basic gene circuit forms the core of all simulated gene network behavior. (B) Green fluorescent protein (GFP, shown as a green dot) from this circuit is conceptualized to be detected by an onboard miniature, epifluorescent microscope (EFM). (C) A computational simulation of microbiome GFP production based upon an analytical model for the circuit in (A). In a built system, this protein fluorescence signal would be the light detected by the EFM. (D) The conceptualized robot uses onboard electronics to convert the measured light signals into electrical (voltage) signals. (E) Voltage signals meeting specific criteria activate pre-programmed robot motion subroutines. (F) The resulting emergent behavior potentially leads a robot to a carbon fuel depot. Here, robot behavior resulting from a simulation of the circuit in (A) is shown. The robot was programmed with motion subroutines that activate to seek arabinose (synthesized from glucose, orange square) depots following receipt of lactose (cyan triangles). Credit: Keith C. Heyde & Warren C. Ruder/Scientific Reports

Ever considered bacteria as "brainy"? I guess not, at least I never did. And yet, once you think about it, bacteria have evolved for billion of years and in this time span they have be able to survive and colonise most places, including our bodies. According to scientists there are between 500 and 1,000 different species of bacteria in our body and their total number is believed to outnumber our cells by 10 times.  Only a tiny fraction of these bacteria are problematic to our wellbeing, actually we would die if all of them would disappear. 

They are not just parasitic nor just exploiting, as an example, what we eat. Scientists have discovered that they influence our taste so that indirectly they force us to eat what they like! Well, that is surely smart!

Some scientists are also studying how bacteria could condition the working of our brain with the aim of finding the right recipe to cure some brain problems.  You already get some bacteria, form time to time, to have your gut in better shape.

Now I stumbled onto a news from Virginia Tech (whose "motto" is Inventing the Future) where one of their scientist has developed a mathematical model to demonstrate how we could use bacteria as a brain for robots.

What Warren Ruder did was to observe how bacteria react to specific situation by developing certain proteins and he took this as the simulation starting point supposing that a robot could detect the production of these proteins and from that derive information to plan its behaviour. 

The simulation, see the figure and its explanation, is based on an ecosystems with the robot and the bacteria biome, connected by sensors. The biome acts as the brain, sensing the environment and computing reactions that may serve it well. These reactions are used by the robot as instructions.

Interestingly, one of the motivation of the study is to be able to understand how to leverage the smartness of a bacteria biome in several area, including, in the future, as a booster to our brain...

Science is becoming more astounding than science fiction.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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