A team at the University of the West of England (UWE) has secured £228,000 in funding to turn single-cell organisms into engineering robots.
In recent years, single-celled organisms have been used to control six-legged robots, but Andrew Adamatzky at UWE wants to go one step further by making a complete "robot" out of a plasmodium slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, a commonly occurring mould that moves towards food sources such as bacteria and fungi, and shies away from light.
Affectionately dubbed Plasmobot, it will be "programmed" using light and electromagnetic stimuli to trigger chemical reactions similar to a complex piece of chemistry called the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, which Adamatzky previously used to build liquid logic gates for a synthetic brain. By understanding and manipulating these reactions, says Adamatzky, it should be possible to program Plasmobot to move in certain ways, to "pick up" objects by engulfing them and even assemble them.
Initially, Plasmobot will work with and manipulate tiny pieces of foam, because they "easily float on the slime", says Adamatzky. The long-term aim is to use such robots to help assemble the components of micromachines, he says.