This is the case of the "nanobots" or microscopic machines (size of about 50 nanometers) that science fiction had imagined in the Star Trek series and which, injected into a patient's circulation, went on site to reconstruct damaged tissues, eliminate pathogens such as viruses and resistant bacteria or even eradicate a cancer.
Unfortunately, the economic factor often stops ideas and the push for innovation of motivated researchers: no one puts the money into it and research remains on paper. This happens particularly in countries like Italy where cuts to scientific research demotivate our scientists.
Fortunately, this did not happen with research by the Georgia Institute of Tecnology. Over the next four years, thanks to a financing of well 3 million dollars, a team led by IanAkyildiz, professor of electronic engineering, will carry out multidisciplinary research that will also involve microbiologists to study how the colonies of bacteria communicate with each other. Akyildiz says:
«Most of the existing nanoscale devices are primitive. But by equipping them with communication skills, such devices could collaborate and form a collective intelligence. We realized that nature already has all these nanomachines. Human cells are perfect examples of nanomachines and the same goes for bacteria. And so, the best bet for us is to examine the behavior of bacteria and learn how bacteria communicate with each other and reuse these solutions to develop real communication between future nanomachines. "
Bacteria use chemical signals to communicate with each other through a process called quorum sensing, which allows a population of unicellular microbes to work as if they were a multicellular organism. Microbiologists are beginning to learn the "language" of bacteria and what activities are controlled by this cellular communication. Many disease-causing bacteria use quorum sensing to activate their toxins in the host organism. Therapies are being studied by some researchers in order to interrupt the quorum sensing of infectious bacteria. And Brian Hammer, a biology assistant at the same research group says:
"A single pathogenic bacterium in your body is unlikely to kill you; but as they communicate with each other, the whole group orchestrates this coordinated behavior with chemical communication, and the end result is that they will function as a well coordinated army to kill their host. So we can reuse the same information in a positive way to use it to our advantage and together understand its limitations. »
What can get bacteria to communicate and others to listen? Information theory algorithms applied to networks will try to emulate such communication systems. At the end of the four-year project, the team hopes to demonstrate the basic fundamental theories that explain how nano-machines can communicate and ultimately replicate this technology for medical use. For an introduction to nanotechnology the Italian translation from the book Engine of Creation by Eric K. Drexler on Estropico.org.