Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
    Robotic Mimic of Extinct Starfish Offers Insights into Ancient Ocean Life

    Modern genomic research has made incredible advances, but cloning long-extinct animals like the ones in Jurassic Park remains a distant dream. However, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA showcases an innovative approach that combines robotics with paleontology, providing scientists with a unique window into the ancient past.

    The interdisciplinary team behind the study has developed a robotic mimic of an extinct ancestor of modern starfish, Pleurocystites. This marine invertebrate lived around 450 million years ago and belonged to the echinoderm family. By constructing robot versions based on an analysis of fossil records and computer modeling, the researchers were able to simulate the movement and locomotion of Pleurocystites.

    The robots’ soft appendages were made of silicone and elastomers, while shape-memory alloy coils enabled the replication of the muscular stem found in the ancient creature. Through various trials in a fish tank, the researchers discovered that Pleurocystites likely moved in a side-to-side motion that propelled it in a brachiole-forward direction.

    While the robotic mimic may appear slow and clumsy, it offers valuable insights into the ancient animal’s locomotion. Furthermore, this study highlights the potential for engineering innovation by mimicking biological structures. For instance, the mimic prompted new ideas for combining soft and rigid components in robotics.

    However, the study also has its limitations. It is impossible to know with absolute certainty how Pleurocystites moved, and the robotic models are larger than the fossilized organisms themselves. Future research aims to create smaller versions of the robot and test it on different types of seafloor substrates.

    In conclusion, this study demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary research combining paleontology and robotics, shedding light on the evolutionary origins and movement of a long-extinct ancestor of modern starfish. It also paves the way for future engineering innovations inspired by biological structures.


    Q: What is Pleurocystites?

    A: Pleurocystites is an extinct genus of marine invertebrate that lived approximately 450 million years ago.

    Q: How did the researchers recreate Pleurocystites?

    A: The researchers analyzed the fossil records and used computer modeling to construct robotic mimics of Pleurocystites.

    Q: What materials were used to create the robotic mimics?

    A: The soft appendages of the robots were made of silicone and elastomers, while shape-memory alloy coils imitated the muscular stem of Pleurocystites.

    Q: What did the researchers discover about Pleurocystites’ locomotion?

    A: Through their experiments, the researchers found that Pleurocystites likely moved with a side-to-side motion in a brachiole-forward direction.

    Q: What are the potential applications of this research?

    A: The robotic mimic of Pleurocystites offers engineering insights and inspires new ideas for combining soft and rigid components in robotics. It also highlights the power of interdisciplinary research in understanding ancient life forms.