First robo-scientist makes debut discovery

April 3rd, 2009 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 3 (IANS) Adam, the first robo-scientist, has made history by discovering new information about the genomics of baker’s yeast.
Ross King, a professor who led the research at Aberystwyth University said: “Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and robot scientists working together in laboratories.”

Using artificial intelligence, Adam hypothesised that certain genes in baker’s yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast.

The robot then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using lab robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle.

Scientists at the universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically, minus human intervention.

The robot has discovered simple but new scientific knowledge about the genomics of the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems.

The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam’s hypotheses were both novel and correct.

“Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for robots.”

Adam is a still a prototype, but King’s team believe that their next robot, Eve, holds great promise for scientists searching for new drugs to combat diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a type of parasitic worm in the tropics, said a joint Aberystwyth-Cambridge release.

King continued: “If science was more efficient it would be better placed to help solve society’s problems. One way to make science more efficient is through automation. Automation was the driving force behind much of the 19th and 20th century progress, and this is likely to continue,” he said.

The work was published in the Friday edition of Science.

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