Bacteria could control robots in future

Washington, July 16 (IANS) Believe it or not — bacteria can control the behaviour of an inanimate device like a robot!

A scientist from Virginia Institute of Technology has used a mathematical model to demonstrate that robots may indeed be able to have a working brain.

“We were trying to find out from the mathematical model if we could build a living microbiome on a non-living host and control the host through the microbiome,” said Waren Ruder, assistant professor of biological systems engineering.

For future experiments, Ruder is building robots that will have the ability to read bacterial gene expression levels in E. coli using miniature fluorescent microscopes.

The robots will respond to bacteria he will engineer in his lab.

Ruder’s approach revealed unique decision-making behaviour by a bacteria-robot system.

The bacteria in the mathematical experiment exhibited their genetic circuitry by either turning green or red according to what they ate.

In the mathematical model, the robot was equipped with sensors and a miniature microscope to measure the colour of bacteria instructing it where and how fast to go depending upon the pigment and intensity of colour.

In one instance, as the bacteria were directing the robot towards food, the robot paused before quickly making its final approach — a classic predatory behaviour of higher order animals that stalk prey.

On a broad scale, understanding the biochemical sensing between organisms could have far reaching implications in ecology, biology and robotics, said the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In agriculture, bacteria-robot model systems could enable robust studies that explore the interactions between soil bacteria and livestock.

In health care, further understanding of bacteria’s role in controlling gut physiology could lead to bacteria-based prescriptions to treat mental and physical illnesses.

Ruder also envisions droids that could execute tasks such as deploying bacteria to remediate oil spills.

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