Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash, this article comes from WeChat public account: brain polar body (ID: unity007) , author: I am imposing a panda

Xenobots, the first “living” robot launched by researchers at the University of Vermont a few days ago, is believed to have surprised many people by 2020. All frog genes, can survive in water, self-driven, and can be “programmed” … This series of keywords sounds like inorganic organisms have appeared, and the 21st century, which belongs to biology, will come. Born under the hands of a scientist …

Of course, after a few days of interpretation and digestion, I believe that everyone’s attitude towards the whole incident has also calmed down. Today, our topic is, can we find some universal new progress from the success of so-called living robots?

“Spore” has not yet become reality: scientists embroider in the laboratory

About this topic full of fantasy, of course, we must start with disenchantment.

If you explain this in one sentence, scientists have isolated stem cells from Xenopus embryos and cultured them. They combined myocardial cells with autonomic ability and epidermal cells used as levers. Together, to achieve the ability to move continuously, and then perform countless experimental simulations through supercomputing, eventually choosing a combination form, so that the composite cells combined by the two cells can achieve directional movement.

The most important advantage of this “robot” is that it can degrade naturally as its lifespan is exhausted without causing pollution. Of course, you don’t need to worry about it. Without the reproductive system, these robots do not have the possibility of reproduction. Basically there is no picture of Cthulhu that the careless operation of the imaginary world is occupied by the “rotten flesh”. Cells don’t have a nervous system, let alone thinking. Even the reflective side can’t be touched. The dream of artificial creatures awakening to attack humans can also wake up.

Remove these negative effects of imagination, the application value of living robots is probably not so easy to achieve.

In the paper, the researchers mentioned the functions of cleaning up microplastic garbage in the ocean, designing pouches for cells for accurate administration in the human body, and clearing blood vessel plaques. Theoretically speaking, if there is a biodegradable cell organism that can change its shape through programming and self-driven movement, it seems that it can indeed achieve the above capabilities.

But from a realistic point of view, this future is still far away. In the case of designing capsular bags for cells to achieve precise treatment, although the design of capsular bags for cells has been achieved in computational simulations, scientists cannot reproduce them in reality. As for cleaning blood vessels and even waste water, a large number of such cell robots are required to achieve this.

So how do scientists make these cellular robots?

The answer is not like everyone imagines, just enter a few lines of code like the game “Spores” to generate different cell combinations, but like embroidery, pinch with tweezers under the microscope. Since the design of the pouch cannot be realized in this way, no accident is needed.

The limitation of engineering ability determines that the cell robot cannot be mass-produced in a short time, let alone the commercial application of balancing cost-benefit.

From Cell Robot to Cell Editing System

In general, this scientific research result is more academic and experimental, just because the concept of “living robot” is too astounding, which has caused overreaction in the media and ordinary people. In fact, there is no need to panic or get over excited.

In fact, in this experiment, there is another protagonist that is ignored by everyone, that is the supercomputer dark green that provides computing power behind it..

It is not difficult to find that the principle of letting composite cells move is not difficult-cardiac muscle cells that naturally contract and move plus leverage. So why did this experimental result appear today?

The reason lies in the engineering difficulty of similar composite biology experiments. As mentioned above, in order to combine cells, scientists need to manually operate under a microscope. This makes the time, money, and labor costs of the experiment very high. This also determines that the top-level design must be as precise as possible, so as to minimize “trying” at the engineering level.

In the design of the upper layer, what kind of “posture” and “proportion” are used to combine different cells, and how the cells will move in different modes in different texture media, so there are countless possibilities. It all depends on the massive calculations under the evolutionary algorithm. The final motion pattern presented in the experiment is the result of numerous simulations under the evolutionary algorithm.

Another key point of the research results of the University of Vermont is that this system that simulates cell movement and environment is universal. In other words, if you want to simulate the performance of another cell in another environment , You only need to make modular changes to the computing system.

This approach is like introducing the concept of digital twins in industry to biological sciences, avoiding countless failed experiments, and reducing the complexity of experimental design processes. Greatly improved the efficiency of biological science research. Based on strong computing capabilities and gradually accumulated results cases, it will be possible to introduce more abundant algorithmic capabilities in the future, and to simulate a more powerful composite cell model through the black box of the neural network, even if it is not possible to use the Achieved at the level, at least point out a direction for the future.

This experiment is just the first typical case of supercomputing and biological science cooperation.

Human LifeDigital dreams, from black to sweet

We can often hear some less rigorous statements from the biology teacher, such as “the precision of a machine is not as complicated as a cell” or “the human being is the most advanced intelligence”. In fact, the core of these statements The point of view is one-the complexity of living things makes it difficult to reproduce and simulate them digitally.

In the history of the development of computer science, in fact, countless people have gone forward to try to simulate living things digitally. Among them is the crowdfunding project Wormsim, which began in 2014. Because of its limited computing power, scientists have selected C. elegans organisms with only about 300 neurons and 1,000 cells, and digitally simulated its brain and nervous system to achieve Worm-like basic neuroreflexive movements that turn toward obstacles. For another example, in the pursuit of AI, the source of the idea of ​​the connection school has been based on the simulation of countless interconnected neurons in the human brain. In 2013, the European Union also led the creation of the “Human Brain Project” in cooperation with 26 countries and 135 research institutions in an attempt to completely simulate the human brain through supercomputing.

Of course, these plans are often limited or failed completely under the constraints of brain science, computing power, storage capacity, etc.

Biology + supercomputing, currently represented by xenobots, mostly choose a compromise solution, instead of simulating an overly complex brain or neuron system, instead choose relatively simpler cells, genes, and so on. Instead of focusing on the applicability of experimental results, we should pay more attention to the modularity and reusability of the experimental calculation process, and provide more valuable references for the entire industry.

This model has been applied in some biological sciences, especially in the field of synthetic biological sciences, such as the research team of the University of North Texas. All-atom molecular dynamics simulation makes gene editing more controllable when cutting DNA. I believe that after the baptism of this news, there will be more superThe Computing Center embraces biological science and promotes cooperation between the two sides.

At this kind of moment, instead of the event that so-called living robots will be used by “evil scientists” to destroy humans, in fact, what is really coming is the talent demand of the interdisciplinary discipline between biology and supercomputing and AI . How the supercomputing platform can create more convenient development tools, whether a group of intelligent computing talents will emerge in biological sciences, and whether there will be AI companies to tap the data support needed for biological research scenarios, these are issues that are worth our consideration.

The innovations that can change the world usually don’t suddenly stand out in an obscure laboratory, but an entire or even countless industries cooperate with each other to create the final gear.

The appearance of Xenobots was only a few hundred meters in the long march.

This article comes from WeChat public number: brain polar body (ID: unity007) , author: I am imposing a panda