Morphogenesis as collective intelligence: from bioelectric mechanisms to synthetic proto-organisms
Prof Michael Levin (Tufts University)
Hosted by the Bristol BioDesign Institute
A new field is emerging at the intersection of biology, cognitive science, and computer science, which will revolutionize many aspects of our future. Central to this development is a recognition that aspects of intelligence and basal cognition long predate the evolution of brains. All cells, not just neurons, communicate as electric networks that process information about growth and form. Our lab has developed new tools with which to understand dynamic control of anatomy in embryogenesis and regeneration as problem-solving by a collective cellular intelligence. Moreover, recent advances in cellular plasticity have revealed the ability of genetically normal cells to self-organize into novel proto-organisms with structure and behaviors that arise de novo. This expansion of the space of possible living beings will give rise not only to a novel class of useful synthetic living machines but also to a platform in which to perfect the reprogramming of the bioelectric software guiding organ structure. At stake are transformative advances in the repair of birth defects, regeneration after traumatic injury, and normalizing cancer, as well as inspiration for AI architectures not built on traditional neural network principles. In this talk, I will discuss the big knowledge gaps in the biological sciences, and sketch a roadmap of how advances in the remarkable plasticity of computation in living matter represents a new frontier with implications for basic science, biomedical and engineering applications, and ethics.
Contact Kathleen Sedgley with any enquiries.