New Lifelike Material Powered By Artificial Metabolism

Cornell engineers have created simple machines using biomaterials that share properties with living things.


(DNA material with DASH video)

Using what they call DASH (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) materials, Cornell engineers constructed a DNA material with capabilities of metabolism, in addition to self-assembly and organization – three key traits of life.

“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,” said Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences...

“The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new route to create dynamic machines from biomolecules. We are at a first step of building lifelike robots by artificial metabolism,” said Shogo Hamada, lecturer and research associate in the Luo lab, and lead and co-corresponding author of the paper. “Even from a simple design, we were able to create sophisticated behaviors like racing. Artificial metabolism could open a new frontier in robotics.”

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke told us (and me, since I read this book when it came out) about this idea in 1972, in his still-current novel Rendezvous With Rama; he used a much more compact word - biot - to describe them:

...now life, with all its infinite possibilities, had come to Rama. If the biological robots were not living creatures, they were certainly very good imitations.

No one knew who invented the word "biot"; it seemed to come into instant use, by a kind of spontaneous generation.
(Read more about Clarke's biots)

The term was used to describe creations like the spider tripod robots that Rama seemed to spontaneously generate for self-cleaning whenever an energy source (a sun) became available.

I'd also point out that science fiction fans (or at least scientifiction fans) were introduced to the idea of "artificial life - living machines" as early as 1926 by Edmond Hamilton in his story Across Space.

Via Cornell and Dynamic DNA material with emergent locomotion behavior powered by artificial metabolism.

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