Straight out of a bizarre sci-fi plot, scientists in Japan are developing techniques in the training of ‘smart’ bacteria.
This is done within the framework of laying puzzles, akin to Sudoko-style grids, which present simple rules to the bacteria, which are able to establish their own unique traffic schemes within the grids.
The ability to solve logical problems clearly suggests the possibility that they can be trained.
The research team, headed by Ryo Taniuchi, conducted an experiment involving 16 kinds of bacteria aligned in a cage with colors and identical numbers. Each colony contained similar genetic characteristics, depending on what type of cell it held within the puzzle box.
“…We are interested in the advantages that recombination (the swapping of large blocks of genetic information) could have played during the advent of life. We are investigating both the benefits that recombination gives for the creation of new genetic diversity and the protection that recombination provides against the accumulation of deleterious mutations…,” said Taniuchi.
The bacteria respond to one of four colors to solve the problem by utilizing a class of enzymes capable of DNA recombination. These enzymes transmit messages about the location and color of undifferentiated bacteria in the remaining cells of the grid.
The genetic information stored in these “messages” prevents the bacteria from differentiating and becoming the same color as the bacteria-transmitters. Thus, scientists can observe the pattern as undifferentiated bacteria determine what color path to take to solve the problem.
The question remains:
Why are scientists in Japan harvesting intelligent bacteria?
Perhaps it involves the search for knowledge concerning very rich, very complex population-level behavior, such as that found in an ant colony?
So watch out for that moldy bread you may have forgotten to throw out.
Just to be on the safe side, the next time you come across a slice, salute it out of respect.