PACE aims to create the foundations for information processing in living nano-materials. This line of research will eventually enable the creation of programmable artificial cells: microscopic self-organizing, self-replicating, and evolvable autonomous entities built from simple organic and inorganic substances that can be genetically programmed to perform specific functions. These artificial cells will be typically much smaller and simpler than modern cells.
The information processing capabilities of such devices will be intrinsically realized in their material composition, just like the fully embodied information processing in real living cells. PACE employs novel computer-programmable microfluidic technology to coordinate and control the self-organization and optimisation of autonomous information processing in life-like nano-materials. In time, this new technological capacity will enable us to create artificial cells from nonliving materials using self-organization and evolution, and to program them to perform a wide variety of useful functions.
We cannot realize autonomous and programmable artificial cells today because the foundations for information processing in self-organizing and evolving nano-materials is missing. The goal of this project is to create this foundation. Achieving this goal involves integrating a variety of currently-separate research efforts:
• theory and simulation of autonomous information processing in living nano-materials
• theory and simulation of emergent functionality in fully embodied self-organizing and adapting complex systems
• novel genetically programmable and self-organizing chemical systems
• computer programmable microsystem interfaces to complex chemical systems
• novel hybrid electronic-microfluidic technology for engineering evolvable complex systems
• fabrication of hybrid electronic-microfluidic technology prototypes
• use of hybrid technology prototypes to experimentally implement intrinsic information processing in nanomachines
These theoretical, computational, and technological efforts will yield experimental realizations of primitive life-like self-organizing nanomachines, thus producing the first concrete steps toward artificial cells. Creating a fully autonomous, self-sustaining, self-reproducing programmable artificial cell is beyond the scope of PACE. But the theoretical framework and technological platforms that this project has produced will open the door to an evolutionary programmable chemistry that is the essential first big step toward the creation of programmable artificial cells.
The main actions for achieving these goals in PACE were
1. Evaluate potential and necessity of artificial cells for evolvable and scalable IT
2. Model & simulate a complex systems route to artificial cells and subsystems
3. Develop the capability to evolutionary program artificial cells
4. Determine the programmable potential of multi-cellular artificial systems
5. Generate the technology to build, integrate and support artificial cells and to
6. Complement, evolve, program and evaluate artificial cell functions
7. Evaluate the potential application areas of this technology
8. Form a research, outreach and training program via the ECLT
9. Manage the project effectively to achieve necessary European integration