Robots Driven by Microbes?

Holy moly! Microbial computing hooked to mobile robot! As Evan Ackerman says, “What could possibly go wrong?

Warren Ruder and colleagues pull signals out of bacteria and feed them to control logic for a robot, so the bacteria can remote control the motion of the robot. Cool.

But let’s put the bacteria on the robot, so they can drive around. Further, let’s put some “food” deposits, and a way for the robot to “eat”. “A Robotic Host with a Living Microbiome. Cooler. The bacterial “sense” the food and drive toward it.

The final kicker, add a feedback from the robot (the motor system) to the bacteria (the brain). They observed complex stalk, pause, pounce behavior. Coolest!

This final point makes clear one reason why this isn’t just a crazy demo: it is very interesting to see how complex behaviors emerge from the basic biochemical toolkit in all life. This suggests how larger organisms might evolve not only structures but behaviors from simpler ancestors who did not exhibit the behavior at all. Tres cool.

Actually, the story is more complex and interesting, because changes in a single biochemical parameter produced a range of different emergent behaviors. So, a fairly simple “search” of a few parameters would let a great variety of behaviors be “tested” evolutionarily.  Interesting.


I’ll add the caveat that I don’t really understand the synthetic biology going on here, nor can I critique their techniques. (I have to assume that Nature wouldn’t publish something completely stupid, right?)


  1. Heyde, Keith C. and Warren C. Ruder, Exploring Host-Microbiome Interactions using an in Silico Model of Biomimetic Robots and Engineered Living Cells. Sci. Rep., 5 07/16/online 2015.


Robot Wednesday

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