Fri. Dec 8th, 2023
    Soft Robotic Replica of Extinct Marine Organism Unlocks Evolutionary Insights

    Scientists have successfully recreated a 450-million-year-old extinct marine organism using soft robotics. The soft robotic replica, inspired by the pleurocystid, offers valuable insights into the movement of ancient organisms and the evolution of the animal kingdom. The pleurocystid was a crucial member of the echinoderm family and is believed to be one of the earliest echinoderms that could move using a muscular stem.

    To recreate the pleurocystid, an international team of researchers utilized fossil evidence and leveraged soft robotics technology. The robot’s design involved a combination of 3D-printed components and flexible polymers, mimicking the creature’s tail-like muscular stem. Through their experiments, the scientists uncovered that the muscular stem played a vital role in the organism’s movement, enabling it to push itself forward across the seafloor. Sweeping movements were likely the most efficient means of locomotion for these ancient creatures.

    Interestingly, the researchers discovered that increasing the length of the stem could enhance the speed of the organism without excessive energy expenditure. This finding opens doors to exploring the biomechanical factors that drove evolutionary changes in extinct organisms.

    The pleurocystid robot represents a remarkable milestone in the emerging field of paleobionics. Paleobionics combines robotics, flexible materials, and the study of extinct organisms to gain a deeper understanding of biomechanics and evolutionary processes. Building on the success of the pleurocystid replica, the researchers now plan to recreate other extinct creatures.

    Co-author Professor Phil LeDuc emphasized the significance of this breakthrough, stating, “Bringing a new life to something that existed nearly 500 million years ago is exciting in and of itself, but what really excites us about this breakthrough is how much we will be able to learn from it.” The collaboration between robotics and paleontology promises to shed further light on ancient life forms and contribute to our understanding of evolution.


    Q: What is the pleurocystid?
    A: The pleurocystid is a 450-million-year-old extinct marine organism belonging to the echinoderm family, which includes starfish and sea urchins.

    Q: How was the pleurocystid replica created?
    A: Researchers used soft robotics technology, combining 3D-printed elements and polymers to recreate the pleurocystid’s flexible tail-like muscular stem.

    Q: What did the researchers discover about the pleurocystid’s movement?
    A: The researchers found that the muscular stem was crucial to the creature’s movement. They also learned that increasing the length of the stem enhanced its speed without consuming excessive energy.

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.