Scientists build synthetic DNA to continuously and autonomously organize, assemble, and restructure itself in a process so similar to biological cells and tissues grow called as “artificial metabolism“.
These human-engineered organic machines are capable of locomotion, consuming resources for energy, growing and decaying, and evolving. Eventually they die. Dan Luo, professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, who worked on the research, says.
“We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before.”
An emergent locomotion behavior resembling a slime mold was programmed with this material by using an abstract design model similar to mechanical systems. An emergent racing behavior of two locomotive bodies was achieved by expanding the program.
Dynamic biomaterials powered by artificial metabolism could provide a previously unexplored route to realize “artificial” biological systems with regenerating and self-sustaining characteristics.
The Cornell team essentially grew their own robots using a DNA-based bio-material, observed them metabolizing resources for energy, watched as they decayed and grew, and then programmed them to race against each other.
This work is still in its infancy, but the implications of organically grown, self-reproducing machines are incredible. And the debate over whether robots can be “alive” will likely have an entire new chapter to discuss soon.