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Data-driven statistical modeling of the emergent behavior of biohybrid microrobots
Leaman, Eric J.
Traore, Mahama A.
Geuther, Brian Q.
Morrow, Carmen M.
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Multi-agent biohybrid microrobotic systems, owing to their small size and distributed nature, offer powerful solutions to challenges in biomedicine, bioremediation, and biosensing. Synthetic biology enables programmed emergent behaviors in the biotic component of biohybrid machines, expounding vast potential benefits for building biohybrid swarms with sophisticated control schemes. The design of synthetic genetic circuits tailored toward specific performance characteristics is an iterative process that relies on experimental characterization of spatially homogeneous engineered cell suspensions. However, biohybrid systems often distribute heterogeneously in complex environments, which will alter circuit performance. Thus, there is a critically unmet need for simple predictive models that describe emergent behaviors of biohybrid systems to inform synthetic gene circuit design. Here, we report a data-driven statistical model for computationally efficient recapitulation of the motility dynamics of two types of Escherichia coli bacteria-based biohybrid swarms-NanoBEADS and BacteriaBots. The statistical model was coupled with a computational model of cooperative gene expression, known as quorum sensing (QS). We determined differences in timescales for programmed emergent behavior in BacteriaBots and NanoBEADS swarms, using bacteria as a comparative baseline. We show that agent localization and genetic circuit sensitivity strongly influence the timeframe and the robustness of the emergent behavior in both systems. Finally, we use our model to design a QS-based decentralized control scheme wherein agents make independent decisions based on their interaction with other agents and the local environment. We show that synergistic integration of synthetic biology and predictive modeling is requisite for the efficient development of biohybrid systems with robust emergent behaviors.