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Microbiome bacteria can serve as artificial intelligence, controlling the behavior of an inanimate device like a robot.

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A microbiome bacteria-controlled brain could make decisions for a robot!

In a paper published July 16 in Scientific Reports, a Virginia Tech scientist used a mathematical model to demonstrate that bacteria can control the behavior of an inanimate device like a robot.

"Basically we were trying to find out from the mathematical model if we could build a living microbiome on a nonliving host and control the host through the microbiome," said Ruder, an assistant professor of biological systems engineering in both the College of Agriculture and Life sciences and the College of Engineering.

"We found that robots may indeed be able to have a working brain," he said.

For future experiments, Ruder is building real-world robots that will have the ability to read bacterial gene expression levels in E. coli using miniature fluorescent microscopes. The robots will respond to bacteria he will engineer in his lab.

On a broad scale, understanding the biochemical sensing between organisms could have far reaching implications in ecology, biology, and robotics.

In agriculture, bacteria-robot model systems could enable robust studies that explore the interactions between soil bacteria and livestock. In healthcare, further understanding of bacteria's role in controlling gut physiology could lead to bacteria-based prescriptions to treat mental and physical illnesses. Ruder also envisions droids that could execute tasks such as deploying bacteria to remediate oil spills.

The findings also add to the ever-growing body of research about bacteria in the human body that are thought to regulate health and mood, and especially the theory that bacteria also affect behavior.

Bacteria controlling robot behavior sounds like science fiction, but it's very possible. 

Did they make the robot eat a donut?

If I were a Microbiome with my own robot, that's what I'd do.

“We were able to watch how a robot driven by bacteria would move in its environment. And by doing so we saw both simple behaviours and more complicated behaviours as we increased the complexity of the biochemical programs that were engineered into the living microbiome.”

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