Zombie Alien Robots Coming to a Pharmacy Near You

Born from frog embryos and designed by supercomputers, these xenobots are never-before-seen creatures, belonging to neither the cold, inanimate nor to the animal kingdom, that possess the capability of regrowing their own selves when even severed in half. Their functions as of now seem to be rather simple, though it wouldn’t be too difficult to fathom the possibility of the bots being used as a future bio-weapon…

 

“‘We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do,’ says co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, ‘like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque.'” …manipulating the neurons in your brain with flashes of light to trigger certain moods and behaviors and cause you to hallucinate, infecting and wrecking your gut to make you a thousand times more susceptible to viruses, penetrating blood cell walls, hacking the protein TRF1 located within the pluripotent cells of telomeres to modify your gene expression, and the list goes on.

 

Not everything is as good as it seems.

 

Perhaps Invasion of the Body Snatchers was more than mere entertainment?

 

Xenopus laevis

Xenobot

 

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Living robots built using frog cells

 

A book is made of wood. But it is not a tree. The dead cells have been repurposed to serve another need.

Now a team of scientists has repurposed living cells — scraped from frog embryos — and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. These millimeter-wide “xenobots” can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like a medicine that needs to be carried to a specific place inside a patient) — and heal themselves after being cut.

“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at UVM — and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. “We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do,” says co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, “like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque.”

The results of the new research were published January 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bespoke Living Systems

People have been manipulating organisms for human benefit since at least the dawn of agriculture, genetic editing is becoming widespread, and a few artificial organisms have been manually assembled in the past few years — copying the body forms of known animals.

But this research, for the first time ever, “designs completely biological machines from the ground up,” the team writes in their new study.

With months of processing time on the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM’s Vermont Advanced Computing Core, the team — including lead author and doctoral student Sam Kriegman — used an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of candidate designs for the new life-forms. Attempting to achieve a task assigned by the scientists — like locomotion in one direction — the computer would, over and over, reassemble a few hundred simulated cells into myriad forms and body shapes. As the programs ran — driven by basic rules about the biophysics of what single frog skin and cardiac cells can do — the more successful simulated organisms were kept and refined, while failed designs were tossed out. After a hundred independent runs of the algorithm, the most promising designs were selected for testing.

Then the team at Tufts, led by Levin and with key work by microsurgeon Douglas Blackiston — transferred the in silico designs into life. First they gathered stem cells, harvested from the embryos of African frogs, the species Xenopus laevis. (Hence the name “xenobots.”) These were separated into single cells and left to incubate. Then, using tiny forceps and an even tinier electrode, the cells were cut and joined under a microscope into a close approximation of the designs specified by the computer.

Assembled into body forms never seen in nature, the cells began to work together. The skin cells formed a more passive architecture, while the once-random contractions of heart muscle cells were put to work creating ordered forward motion as guided by the computer’s design, and aided by spontaneous self-organizing patterns — allowing the robots to move on their own.

These reconfigurable organisms were shown to be able move in a coherent fashion — and explore their watery environment for days or weeks, powered by embryonic energy stores. Turned over, however, they failed, like beetles flipped on their backs.

Later tests showed that groups of xenobots would move around in circles, pushing pellets into a central location — spontaneously and collectively. Others were built with a hole through the center to reduce drag. In simulated versions of these, the scientists were able to repurpose this hole as a pouch to successfully carry an object. “It’s a step toward using computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery,” says Bongard, a professor in UVM’s Department of Computer Science and Complex Systems Center.

Living Technologies

Many technologies are made of steel, concrete or plastic. That can make them strong or flexible. But they also can create ecological and human health problems, like the growing scourge of plastic pollution in the oceans and the toxicity of many synthetic materials and electronics. “The downside of living tissue is that it’s weak and it degrades,” say Bongard. “That’s why we use steel. But organisms have 4.5 billion years of practice at regenerating themselves and going on for decades.” And when they stop working — death — they usually fall apart harmlessly. “These xenobots are fully biodegradable,” say Bongard, “when they’re done with their job after seven days, they’re just dead skin cells.”

Your laptop is a powerful technology. But try cutting it in half. Doesn’t work so well. In the new experiments, the scientists cut the xenobots and watched what happened. “We sliced the robot almost in half and it stitches itself back up and keeps going,” says Bongard. “And this is something you can’t do with typical machines.”

Cracking the Code

Both Levin and Bongard say the potential of what they’ve been learning about how cells communicate and connect extends deep into both computational science and our understanding of life. “The big question in biology is to understand the algorithms that determine form and function,” says Levin. “The genome encodes proteins, but transformative applications await our discovery of how that hardware enables cells to cooperate toward making functional anatomies under very different conditions.”

To make an organism develop and function, there is a lot of information sharing and cooperation — organic computation — going on in and between cells all the time, not just within neurons. These emergent and geometric properties are shaped by bioelectric, biochemical, and biomechanical processes, “that run on DNA-specified hardware,” Levin says, “and these processes are reconfigurable, enabling novel living forms.”

The scientists see the work presented in their new PNAS study — “A scalable pipeline for designing reconfigurable organisms,” — as one step in applying insights about this bioelectric code to both biology and computer science. “What actually determines the anatomy towards which cells cooperate?” Levin asks. “You look at the cells we’ve been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It’s 100% frog DNA — but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?”

“As we’ve shown, these frog cells can be coaxed to make interesting living forms that are completely different from what their default anatomy would be,” says Levin. He and the other scientists in the UVM and Tufts team — with support from DARPA’s Lifelong Learning Machines program and the National Science Foundation — believe that building the xenobots is a small step toward cracking what he calls the “morphogenetic code,” providing a deeper view of the overall way organisms are organized — and how they compute and store information based on their histories and environment.

Future Shocks

Many people worry about the implications of rapid technological change and complex biological manipulations. “That fear is not unreasonable,” Levin says. “When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don’t understand, we’re going to get unintended consequences.” A lot of complex systems, like an ant colony, begin with a simple unit — an ant — from which it would be impossible to predict the shape of their colony or how they can build bridges over water with their interlinked bodies.

“If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules,” says Levin. Much of science is focused on “controlling the low-level rules. We also need to understand the high-level rules,” he says. “If you wanted an anthill with two chimneys instead of one, how do you modify the ants? We’d have no idea.”

“I think it’s an absolute necessity for society going forward to get a better handle on systems where the outcome is very complex,” Levin says. “A first step towards doing that is to explore: how do living systems decide what an overall behavior should be and how do we manipulate the pieces to get the behaviors we want?”

In other words, “this study is a direct contribution to getting a handle on what people are afraid of, which is unintended consequences,” Levin says — whether in the rapid arrival of self-driving cars, changing gene drives to wipe out whole lineages of viruses, or the many other complex and autonomous systems that will increasingly shape the human experience.

“There’s all of this innate creativity in life,” says UVM’s Josh Bongard. “We want to understand that more deeply — and how we can direct and push it toward new forms.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Vermont. Original written by Joshua E. Brown. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Related Multimedia:

YouTube video: UVM and Tufts Team Builds First Living Robots
Journal Reference:

Sam Kriegman, Douglas Blackiston, Michael Levin, and Josh Bongard. A scalable pipeline for designing reconfigurable organisms. PNAS, 2020 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1910837117
Cite This Page:
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University of Vermont. “Living robots built using frog cells: Tiny ‘xenobots’ assembled from cells promise advances from drug delivery to toxic waste clean-up.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200113175653.htm>.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200113175653.htm

Risky Beesness

Surely the bumble bees couldn’t possibly be disappearing for their anti-gravity properties? No, that would obviously be way too sci-fi for the World…except for “climate chaos” and organically autonomous AI machines. Those are acceptable ideas in mainstream science.

 

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Why bumble bees are going extinct in time of ‘climate chaos’

 

When you were young, were you the type of child who would scour open fields looking for bumble bees? Today, it is much harder for kids to spot them, since bumble bees are drastically declining in North America and in Europe.

A new study from the University of Ottawa found that in the course of a single human generation, the likelihood of a bumble bee population surviving in a given place has declined by an average of over 30%.

Peter Soroye, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, Jeremy Kerr, professor at the University of Ottawa and head of the lab group Peter is in, along with Tim Newbold, research fellow at UCL (University College London), linked the alarming idea of ”climate chaos” to extinctions, and showed that those extinctions began decades ago.

“We’ve known for a while that climate change is related to the growing extinction risk that animals are facing around the world,” first author Peter Soroye explained. “In this paper, we offer an answer to the critical questions of how and why that is. We find that species extinctions across two continents are caused by hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures.”

“We have now entered the world’s sixth mass extinction event, the biggest and most rapid global biodiversity crisis since a meteor ended the age of the dinosaurs.” — Peter Soroye

Massive decline of the most important pollinators on Earth

“Bumble bees are the best pollinators we have in wild landscapes and the most effective pollinators for crops like tomato, squash, and berries,” Peter Soroye observed. “Our results show that we face a future with many less bumble bees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates.”

The researchers discovered that bumble bees are disappearing at rates “consistent with a mass extinction.”

“If declines continue at this pace, many of these species could vanish forever within a few decades,” Peter Soroye warned.

The technique

“We know that this crisis is entirely driven by human activities,” Peter Soroye said. “So, to stop this, we needed to develop tools that tell us where and why these extinctions will occur.”

The researchers looked at climate change and how it increases the frequency of really extreme events like heatwaves and droughts, creating a sort of “climate chaos” which can be dangerous for animals. Knowing that species all have different tolerances for temperature (what’s too hot for some might not be for others), they developed a new measurement of temperature.

“We have created a new way to predict local extinctions that tells us, for each species individually, whether climate change is creating temperatures that exceed what the bumble bees can handle,” Dr. Tim Newbold explained.

Using data on 66 different bumble bee species across North America and Europe that have been collected over a 115-year period (1900-2015) to test their hypothesis and new technique, the researchers were able to see how bumble bee populations have changed by comparing where bees are now to where they used to be historically.

“We found that populations were disappearing in areas where the temperatures had gotten hotter,” Peter Soroye said. “Using our new measurement of climate change, we were able to predict changes both for individual species and for whole communities of bumble bees with a surprisingly high accuracy.”

A new horizon of research

This study doesn’t end here. In fact, it opens the doors to new research horizons to track extinction levels for other species like reptiles, birds and mammals.

“Perhaps the most exciting element is that we developed a method to predict extinction risk that works very well for bumble bees and could in theory be applied universally to other organisms,” Peter Soroye indicated. “With a predictive tool like this, we hope to identify areas where conservation actions would be critical to stopping declines.”

“Predicting why bumble bees and other species are going extinct in a time of rapid, human-caused climate change could help us prevent extinction in the 21st century.” — Dr. Jeremy Kerr

There is still time to act

“This work also holds out hope by implying ways that we might take the sting out of climate change for these and other organisms by maintaining habitats that offer shelter, like trees, shrubs, or slopes, that could let bumble bees get out of the heat,” Dr. Kerr said. “Ultimately, we must address climate change itself and every action we take to reduce emissions will help. The sooner the better. It is in all our interests to do so, as well as in the interests of the species with whom we share the world.”

Funding: J.K. is grateful for Discovery Grant and Discovery Accelerator Supplement from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and funds from his University Research Chair in Macroecology and Conservation at the University of Ottawa. J.K. is also supported through infrastructure funds from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This collaboration was funded by a Royal Society grant to T.N. and J.K. and an NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship award to P.S. to work with J.K. T.N. was supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and a grant from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/R010811/1).

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Ottawa. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Peter Soroye, Tim Newbold, Jeremy Kerr. Climate change contributes to widespread declines among bumble bees across continents. Science, 2020; 367 (6478): 685 DOI: 10.1126/science.aax8591
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University of Ottawa. “Why bumble bees are going extinct in time of ‘climate chaos’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200206144807.htm>.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200206144807.htm

Planting a Seed of Light

Provoking an alternating current within plant photosynthesis via switching between electron pathways opens a door to designing smaller and more effective solar-powered devices.

 

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Scientists unravel mystery of photosynthesis

 

Plants have been harnessing the sun’s energy for hundreds of millions of years.

Algae and photosynthetic bacteria have been doing the same for even longer, all with remarkable efficiency and resiliency.

It’s no wonder, then, that scientists have long sought to understand exactly how they do this, hoping to use this knowledge to improve human-made devices such as solar panels and sensors.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, working closely with collaborators at Washington University in St. Louis, recently solved a critical part of this age-old mystery, honing in on the initial, ultrafast events through which photosynthetic proteins capture light and use it to initiate a series of electron transfer reactions.

“In order to understand how biology fuels all of its engrained activities, you must understand electron transfer,” said Argonne biophysicist Philip Laible. “The movement of electrons is crucial: it’s how work is accomplished inside a cell.”

In photosynthetic organisms, these processes begin with the absorption of a photon of light by pigments localized in proteins.

Each photon propels an electron across a membrane located inside specialized compartments within the cell.

“The separation of charge across a membrane — and stabilization of it — is critical as it generates energy that fuels cell growth,” said Argonne biochemist Deborah Hanson.

The Argonne and Washington University research team has gained valuable insight on the initial steps in this process: the electron’s journey.

Nearly 35 years ago, when the first structure of these types of complexes was unveiled, scientists were surprised to discover that after the absorption of light, the electron transfer processes faced a dilemma: there are two possible pathways for the electron to travel.

In nature, plants, algae and photosynthetic bacteria use just one of them — and scientists had no idea why.

What they did know was that the propulsion of the electron across the membrane — effectively harvesting the energy of the photon — required multiple steps.

Argonne and Washington University scientists have managed to interfere with each one of them to change the electron’s trajectory.

“We’ve been on this trail for more than three decades, and it is a great accomplishment that opens up many opportunities,” said Dewey Holten, a chemist at Washington University.

The scientists’ recent article, “Switching sides — Reengineered primary charge separation in the bacterial photosynthetic reaction center,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how they discovered an engineered version of this protein complex that switched the utilization of the pathways, enabling the one that was inactive while disabling the other.

“It is remarkable that we have managed to switch the direction of initial electron transfer,” said Christine Kirmaier, Washington University chemist and project leader. “In nature, the electron chose one path 100 percent of the time. But through our efforts, we have been able to make the electron switch to an alternate path 90 percent of the time. These discoveries pose exciting questions for future research.”

As a result of their efforts, the scientists are now closer than ever to being able to design electron transfer systems in which they can send an electron down a pathway of their choosing.

“This is important because we are gaining the ability to harness the flow of energy to understand design principles that will lead to new applications of abiotic systems,” Laible said. “This would allow us to greatly improve the efficiency of many solar-powered devices, potentially making them far smaller. We have a tremendous opportunity here to open up completely new disciplines of light-driven biochemical reactions, ones that haven’t been envisioned by nature. If we can do that, that’s huge.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by DOE/Argonne National Laboratory. Original written by Jo Napolitano. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Philip D. Laible, Deborah K. Hanson, James C. Buhrmaster, Gregory A. Tira, Kaitlyn M. Faries, Dewey Holten, Christine Kirmaier. Switching sides—Reengineered primary charge separation in the bacterial photosynthetic reaction center. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 117 (2): 865 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1916119117
Cite This Page:
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DOE/Argonne National Laboratory. “Scientists unravel mystery of photosynthesis.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205132347.htm>.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205132347.htm

Optical Computing via a Gelatinous Lens for Light

Using hydrogel as the lens to refract light beamed through as an efficient computing method makes one wonder about the role the waters above and below is and how they could, at the very least, be potentially manipulated. It might be wise to take a look at brine pools, for the salinity is high which naturally paves an easy road for electricity to flow throughout.

Directly below, I post the link and citation to an article from Nature.com written by Luisa Galgani, Judith Piontek, and Anja Engel, explaining the observations and effects of organic polymers in the Arctic ocean produced by marine microorganisms existing within sea-brine.

 

Biopolymers form a gelatinous microlayer at the air-sea interface when Arctic sea ice melts

Galgani, L., Piontek, J. & Engel, A. Biopolymers form a gelatinous microlayer at the air-sea interface when Arctic sea ice melts. Sci Rep 6, 29465 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep29465

https://rdcu.be/b1m1n

 

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Controlling light with light
Researchers develop a new platform for all-optical computing

 

The future of computation is bright — literally.

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), in collaboration with researchers at McMaster University and University of Pittsburgh, have developed a new platform for all-optical computing, meaning computations done solely with beams of light.

“Most computation right now uses hard materials such as metal wires, semiconductors and photodiodes to couple electronics to light,” said Amos Meeks, a graduate student at SEAS and co-first author of the research. “The idea behind all-optical computing is to remove those rigid components and control light with light. Imagine, for example, an entirely soft, circuitry-free robot driven by light from the sun.”

These platforms rely on so-called non-linear materials that change their refractive index in response to the intensity of light. When light is shone through these materials, the refractive index in the path of the beam increases, generating its own, light-made waveguide. Currently, most non-linear materials require high-powered lasers or are permanently changed by the transmission of light.

Here, researchers developed a fundamentally new material that uses reversible swelling and contracting in a hydrogel under low laser power to change the refractive index.

The hydrogel is composed of a polymer network that is swollen with water, like a sponge, and a small number of light-responsive molecules known as spiropyran (which is similar to the molecule used to tint transition lenses). When light is shone through the gel, the area under the light contracts a small amount, concentrating the polymer and changing the refractive index. When the light is turned off, the gel returns to its original state.

When multiple beams are shone through the material, they interact and affect each other, even at large distances. Beam A could inhibit Beam B, Beam B could inhibit Beam A, both could cancel each other out or both could go through — creating an optical logic gate.

“Though they are separated, the beams still see each other and change as a result,” said Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, an associate professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at McMaster and co-senior author of the study. “We can imagine, in the long term, designing computing operations using this intelligent responsiveness.”

“Not only can we design photoresponsive materials that reversibly switch their optical, chemical and physical properties in the presence of light, but we can use those changes to create channels of light, or self-trapped beams, that can guide and manipulate light,” said co-author Derek Morim, a graduate student in Saravanamuttu’s lab.

“Materials science is changing,” said Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS and co-senior author of the study. “Self-regulated, adaptive materials capable of optimizing their own properties in response to environment replace static, energy-inefficient, externally regulated analogs. Our reversibly responsive material that controls light at exceptionally small intensities is yet another demonstration of this promising technological revolution.”

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was co-authored by Ankita Shastri, Andy Tran, Anna V. Shneidman, Victor V. Yashin, Fariha Mahmood, Anna C. Balazs. It was supported in part by the US Army Research Office under Award W911NF-17-1-0351 and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Original written by Leah Burrows. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Derek R. Morim, Amos Meeks, Ankita Shastri, Andy Tran, Anna V. Shneidman, Victor V. Yashin, Fariha Mahmood, Anna C. Balazs, Joanna Aizenberg, Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu. Opto-chemo-mechanical transduction in photoresponsive gels elicits switchable self-trapped beams with remote interactions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902872117

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205132245.htm

 

Stanton T. Friedman on the Future of the World

“Another area about UFOs that really intrigues me is the philosophical one. The implications for mankind finding out that he is neither alone in the Universe nor the most advanced civilization.

I think man’s ego has really stood in the way of mankind moving in the right direction that is a peaceful world for all the people on it.

And I think that perhaps what is the most important thing about UFOs is that it will force the younger generation to think of themselves as being Earthlings, rather than Americans, or Russians, or Chinese, black, white, male, female.

If the people of this planet start thinking of themselves as Earthlings simply because they recognize that there’s somebody coming from some place else; and so how can you talk about what country you come from if you’re to dealing with creatures from another solar system. I mean, countries are trivial compared to planets in that case.

And I think that is man’s biggest hope for his future. It’s not that we’ll unite against our invaders, so to speak, but rather that we will grow up and will start living up to our potential.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a government on this planet that will like its people to think of themselves as Earthlings first rather than as members of a government first.

But the philosophical implications of this are really rather profound.

And I think that it is very important for us to recognize something that a great German physicist once said. Max Plank said that new ideas come to be accepted not because their opponents come to believe in them, but because their opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is accustomed to them.

And so this is why I speak at college campuses.

This is why I have given up trying to reach the ancient academics whose minds are made up and they say ‘don’t bother me with the facts’ they know they can’t be reaped.

And it’s because I think that man’s biggest hope for the future lies with the youth.

And with a new look at where man fits in the Universe.”

 

— Stanton T. Friedman