Scientists create ‘DNA material’ with three key traits of life in quest for lifelike robots

Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, so much that doctors may begin prescribing sex robots for patients soon. Society is about to transform, for the better and for the worse.

Now, it looks like another concept only dreamed about in Sci-Fi shows like Westworld, or Black Mirror is about to come true: self-replicating robot lifeforms. These robots would have DNA, the blueprint of organic life.

Researchers at Cornell University have created a material that contains instructions for metabolism and regeneration using DNA. In other words, the material possesses three key traits of life: self-assembly, organization, and the means to generate its own energy through metabolism.

Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering, discussed the project:

“Almost all material is static, like the table, or a plastic. What we’re trying to do is to make materials alive,” said Luo.

“In other words, can we afford lifelike properties to the material, such as the metabolic activities. Which means that they can grow and at the same time, have to be degraded.”

Shogo Hamada, lecturer, and research associate in biological and environmental engineering maintains there is a big difference between life and this material.

“So of course, it’s not life itself, right? We are not using a biological organism inside. However, we can still mimic those kind of behaviors with this mechanism,” said Hamada.

However, Hamada admits that the aim is to move toward more lifelike machines.

“If we continue with this effort, we may be able to create those self-replicating machines in a more lifelike sense,” said Hamada. “Se we are basically making the machines, not the new life. So that’s a huge difference.”

The scientists are using a process called DASH: “DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical” materials. The DNA is coded with metabolism and instructions for autonomous regeneration so it can grow and replace degraded parts on its own.

For now, it isn’t much to look at, appearing like a slowly moving slime mold. However, this is just the beginning.

Just like any animal or plant, the biomaterial can generate and replace the components, as well as discard old ones, creating waste. It starts by forming polymers and arranges itself into large shapes by a hierarchical process.

Is it biological? The lines are blurring…

According to Big Think:

“The DNA molecules in the materials were duplicated hundreds of thousands of times, resulting in chains of repeating DNA that were a few millimeters in length. The solution with the reaction was injected into a special microfluidic device that facilitated biosynthesis.”

“This flow washed over the materials, causing DNA to synthesize its own strands. The material even had its own locomotion, with the front end growing while the tail end was degrading, making it creep forth.”

“This fact allowed the researchers to have portions of the materials competing against each other.”

Hamada says that this may be the first step in “building lifelike robots by artificial metabolism” that will open up a new frontier in robotics. The question: Is the world ready for robot machines that can build themselves?

See the video from Cornell University below:

Featured image: by skeeze via Pixabay

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