Brussels, 19 May 2004
A consortium of 13 partners from eight European countries is to investigate the implications of pursuing living technology in the 'programmable artificial cell evolution' (PACE) project.
The Integrated Project, to be coordinated by guest professor at the University of Bochum in Germany, John McCaskill, will seek to create the foundations for a new generation of embedded information technology using programmable, self-assembling artificial cells. It is funded under the future emerging technologies section of the Sixth Framework Programme's information society technologies (IST) thematic priority.
'The project lies at the heart of the transition to a nanoscale information economy, in which the solution of technical problems happens foremost and most efficiently through information stored, optimised and applied at the nanoscale,' Professor McCaskill told CORDIS News. 'Artificial cells represent the potentially completely autonomous end of the spectrum of programmable devices in the real world.'
The development of artificial cells with self-organising and evolvable life-like properties is eagerly awaited, as these cells are required for the next generation of self-repairing computer and robotics technology, as well as for directing production and remediation at the nanoscale. The resulting applications will benefit from a degree of independent programmability and control that is higher in these cells than in existing organisms. These qualities will make the technology extremely interesting for the manufacturing, environmental and health industries.
Living technology has attracted controversy in the past, but the PACE project does not set out to promote the technology uncritically - rather to examine its potential advantages and disadvantages. A section of the research will address the degree of autonomy and evolvability that the cells could possess, as well as what levels of both are desirable. 'Thus the project is also about uncovering the pros and cons of relinquishing high level central control in technology, and IT [information and technology] in particular,' said Professor McCaskill. 'This is a key theme in complex system management in general, and vital for the future of our society.'
The ethical questions raised by living technology research will also be addressed by the new European Centre for Living Technology, to be established in Venice, Italy, with the support of the EU, the city itself and the University of Venice Ca' Foscari. In addition to fostering informed public debate on living technology, the centre will provide an outreach and training programme aimed at bringing living technology to young scientists and engineers.
As implied by the subject of the PACE project, the consortium comprises research teams with a plethora of competences between them. Together, the consortium boasts expertise in complex systems, embedded systems, robotics, evolution, statistics, chemical kinetics, physical simulation, microfluidics, organic and bio-organic chemistry, computer interfaces, control systems, standards and learning services. 'Whereas multidisciplinary activities have been gathering momentum in Europe for some years now, the PACE project represents a key test of multidisciplinary integration spanning IT, biology and nanotechnology. It will provide theorists with a strong reality check on the significance of their results, and experimentalists with both direction and technical support,' Professor McCaskill told CORDIS News.
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