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Scientists from Cornell create realistic biomachines that eat, grow and compete competitively



Cornell Lifelike Material DNA

This is not quite Skynet, but scientists have created "realistic" machines that seem like something straight from a science-fiction movie. Scientists at Cornell University have created what they call artificial machines, using synthetic DNA that can move on its own, grow, evolve, consume resources and eventually die.

Now, before you start assuming your judgmental hats and questioning the ethics of scientists, they will soon notice that their creations are not real "living" organisms. "We're introducing a completely new, realistic material concept fueled by our own artificial metabolism," writes Dan Luo, who is a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell. "We do not create something that lives, but we create materials that are much more realistic than ever before."

Luo and his team developed a biomaterial that was placed in a scaffold at the nanoscale. The material then appeared autonomously to "organize itself – first in polymers and ultimately into mesoscale shapes". Acting in a similar way to slime molds, the biomaterial was able to move under its own power, moving towards a smooth flow of energy.

No wonder the scientists have rolled these new biological machines against each other in competitive races – why not? Taking into account the properties of each locomotive and the total randomness of the environments (and the machines themselves), the team claims that the results of the race and eventual winners have always been dynamic.

In addition to racing pranks and abilities to survive, scientists from Cornell also witnessed the growth of their new machines, decomposition and eventual death (after two synthetic cycles) like real living organisms.

"The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new way to create dynamic machines with biomolecules," added Shogo Hamada, a research fellow at the Luo laboratory. "We are at the first stage of building realistic robots through artificial metabolism.

"Ultimately, the system can lead to realistic self-reproducing machines."

Luo and his team are just beginning to work with these machines and they hope that eventually they will be able to advance their research to the point where this biomaterial can be used as biosensors in the field of medicine.


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