Facilitated by the recent advancements in synthetic biology and nanotechnology, the Internet of Bio-Nano Things (IoBNT) promises a wide range of potential applications.
In the area of environmental sustainability, bacteria could be programmed and deployed in different surroundings, such as the sea or “smart” cities, to sense for toxins and pollutants, gather data, and undertake the bioremediation processes. In medicine and healthcare, bacteria could be programmed to swim to a chosen destination within the human body, produce and release the hormones to treat diseases.
Raphael Kim and Stefan Poslad, from Queen Mary University London, discuss the opportunities and the ethical challenges:
With advances in nano- and biotechnology, bacteria are receiving increasing attention in scientific research as a potential substrate for Internet of Bio-Nano Things (IoBNT), which involve networking and communication through nanoscale and biological entities. Harnessing the special features of bacteria, including an ability to become autonomous – helped by an embedded, natural propeller motor – the microbes show promising array of application in healthcare and environmental health. In this paper, we briefly outline significant features of bacteria that allow analogies between them and traditional computerized IoT device to be made. We argue that such comparisons are critical in terms of helping researchers to explore human-bacteria interaction in the context of IoT and HCI. Furthermore, we highlight the current lack of tangible infrastructure for researchers in IoT and HCI to access and experiment with bacteria. As a potential solution, we propose to utilize the DIY biology movement and gamification techniques to leverage user engagement and introduction to bacteria.Kim, Raphael, and Stefan Poslad. ‘The Thing With E.Coli: Highlighting Opportunities and Challenges of Integrating Bacteria in IoT and HCI’. ArXiv:1910.01974 [Cs], 1, June 2019. arXiv.org, http://arxiv.org/abs/1910.01974.
Featured Image: Comparison between E.coli bacterium and Raspberry Pi-controlled IoT device. Components of the bacteria anatomy that function similarly to the computerized device are linked by pink arrows. (op. cit.)