An artificial intelligence has, with absolute autonomy (i.e. no input from humans), cracked a 120-year-old biological mystery. A team of computer scientists and biologists from Tufts University developed a computer that was able to form its own theories when given scientific data to work from. The first challenge the team posed to the computer was the conundrum of the flatworm. Scientists have known for over a century that pieces of flatworm removed from the main body are able to regenerate to form new organisms, but why remained an enigma, until now.
The computer was able to reverse engineer an explanation for the process known as Planaria, revealing that the information to regenerate cells is coded into not just the flatworm’s genes, but the genes of every creature on the planet.
“Most regenerative models today derived from genetic experiments are arrow diagrams, showing which gene regulates another. That’s fine, but it doesn’t tell you what the ultimate shape will be. You cannot tell if the outcome of many genetic pathway models will look like a tree, an octopus or a human,” Michael Levin, one of the researchers, said. “What we need are algorithmic or constructive models, which you could follow precisely and there would be no mystery or uncertainty. You follow the recipe and out comes the shape.”
“One of the most remarkable aspects of the project was that the model it found was not a hopelessly tangled network that no human could actually understand, but a reasonably simple model that people can readily comprehend,” he added. “All this suggests to me that artificial intelligence can help with every aspect of science, not only data mining but also inference, of meaning of the data.”
The team from Tuft University believes that this breakthrough could potentially lead to regenerative medicine for humans. We’ll be regrowing limbs in no time.
Thank you Wired for providing us with this information.