BioMachine Integration will tackle grand challenges that span health, security, and sustainability with engineering solutions to involve an integration of advanced materials, devices and machines with living systems to yield synthetic bio-machine technologies.
The overarching aims of the initiative are (1) to elucidate the principles and mechanisms that endow living systems with adaptive performance, and (2) to engineer solutions to medical and ecological challenges by leveraging and modulating adaptive biological systems. We envision these engineering solutions to involve an integration of advanced materials, devices and machines with living systems to yield synthetic bio-machine technologies.
Adaptability is the hallmark of living systems that distinguishes them from artificial systems. Molecular and cellular networks provide nimble defense systems that detect and protect against infections and pathogens. Meanwhile, pathogens combat therapeutic strategies through continual adaptations that render drugs ultimately ineffective. Cells sense and respond to cues to self-organize into tissues and organs with remarkable fidelity despite a noisy environment. At the human scale, even seemingly simple motor tasks, such as walking without spilling a cup of coffee, require complex dynamic regulation and coordination between the brain, senses, and muscles. Even the most sophisticated robots are a far cry from the remarkable adaptability and versatility of human behavior. Ecosystems and life adapt over generational time scales through mutation and selection.
Living systems are adaptive yet fragile. Autoimmune diseases, cancer, loss of sensorimotor function following a stroke, and the consequences of irrecoverable assaults on our environment offer striking examples.
A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying adaptability and fragility of living systems will offer engineering principles to design and integrate living systems with advanced materials, devices and machines to address societal challenges. This initiative is focused on scientific advances and engineering solutions, such as:
- programmable, adaptive living sensors that report and act autonomously on environmental toxins or infectious pathogens;
- active devices to fabricate artificial organs using live imaging and control systems to dynamically modulate tissue growth and architecture;
- devices such as amputation prostheses and therapeutic robots that replace, complement and augment human function;
- fundamental knowledge of human action and physical cooperation with robots to enable optimal design,
- novel medical robotic and mechatronic devices to perform medical procedures in the areas of rehabilitation, surgery, drug delivery and diagnostics;
- application of novel biological agents (e.g. microorganisms) or bioprocesses and their functions to detect, transform or mitigate environmental pollutants in both natural and engineered systems.