John McCaskill: From electronic evolution to electronic chemical cells.
In this presentation, I outline how we can make progress towards artificial life by exploring a novel kind of life that links local electronics with real chemistry via electrodes and optical feedback. Electronics currently provides a pervasive information technology and synthetic chemistry a pervasive construction technology when linked with physical self-organization. Biology has linked chemical and physical construction to genetic information processing using especially DNA and proteins. A direct link of electronics with DNA processing and chemical synthesis can potentially accelerate the quest for artificial life, and in this talk I outline our current efforts in this direction. The international scientific quest to develop artificial life is approaching fruition: Not the extrapolation of genetic engineering to synthetic biology but the extrapolation of synthetic chemistry and physical self-organization to what some call "bottom-up synthetic biology", and the two main remaining roadblocks I see in this quest are to regulate creativity in artificial evolution and to rationally design chemical systems that capture the functional architecture of cells in a minimally complex way. In this context I will also present some of our results on orchestrating collecting evolution in connection with combinatorial phase systems and genetic self-assembly. While the term artificial cells has been used in a variety of contexts, including early on for artificial blood (Chang) and more recently for cells with a more or less synthetic genome (Venter), it is clear that to the artificial life community, artificial cells worthy of the name must be generated from other structures and information than existing cells, in order to further our understanding of "life as it is in the context of life as it could be". Electronic chemical cells may soon provide some insights here. This work has been supported by the EU through the projects PACE and ECCell.
Tetsuya Yomo: A constructive approach to artificial protocells
Serge Kernbach: Artificial Organisms: from Unicellular to Multicellular
Modern embedded, systems on chip, microprocessor and bio-hybrid devices demonstrate enormous complexity in terms of the number of transistors, flexible architecture and adaptive functionality. Regulative and homeostatic principles of autonomous systems, such as robots, based on these devices, are to some extent comparable with simple unicellular organisms. Collective robotics in last 25 years demonstrated continuous development: from simple to complex, from reactive to cognitive, from individuals to super-large groups. The robots themselves are changing from mechatronic to bio-molecular and bacterial systems. The research in collective systems, focused currently on artificial ecologies, is also shifting to self-assembling, colonies, symbiotic and multicellular organisms with such issues as morphogenesis or embryology. The step between multiple unicellular individuals and even a single multicellular organism is huge. We encounter new challenges of self-* features, immunology and reproduction, open-ended evolution and unbound development of such artificial organisms. The big scientific question is related to understanding the origin of multicellularity in nature and capabilities to reproduce it in synthetic systems.
Donald Canfield: A brief history of the evolution of life on earth
I might consider myself a biogeochemist, a geobiologist, a microbial ecologist, or a variety of other things depending on whom I am talking to. Indeed, my work is multidisciplinary and involves elements of microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, and geology. In the broadest sense, I am interested in understanding the cycling of bioactive elements of the modern earth, and into the distant geological past. I am particularly interested in understanding how the chemistry of the Earth surface has changed through geologic time, and how this changing chemistry might have influenced the nature and structure of ecosystems and the evolution of life. This work takes us to modern environments including marine sediments, anoxic marine basins, and anoxic lakes. Our work also takes us to rocks deposited long ago. In total, we aim to understand how to read the chemical traces preserved in ancient rocks and how these traces can tell us of the nature of ocean and atmospheric chemistry.