John Innes Centre scientists will participate in new €2 million EU-funded research to programme more "intelligent" and adaptable robot swarms.
The collaborative research will also be useful for improving other complex systems that can be challenged by their environment, such as smart phone networks.
"Plants achieve exquisite organisation and spatially-controlled division of labour," said Dr Veronica Grieneisen from the John Innes Centre.
"They form complex patterns and deal with conflict or damage by acting locally but for the benefit of the whole."
One application of better robot swarms could be space exploration. In unknown terrain, they need to be able to organise themselves in an unpredictable way, to effectively cover an area rather than cluster and to sample materials as they move.
The scientists will look at plants, growing limbs and marine animals, investigating how they repair themselves, how they organise themselves and how local decisions between a few cells can affect the whole.
"Biological systems have evolved elegant ways to govern large numbers of autonomous agents," said Dr Grieneisen.
"We will explore how to make use of those fundamental principles, evolved over millennia, to inspire cutting edge technology."
As they grow, repair and respond to their environment plants are able to coherently control the expression of thousands of genes. They do this using gene regulatory networks.
Comparing networks between vastly different biological systems will help the scientists identify commonalties and fundamental principles that can be applied to technology.
The scientists will buy hundreds of robots into which they can programme the insights gained through the research. As the robots become more adaptable they will be set different challenges, such as navigating a maze, searching for an object or surveying an area.
The research partners:
Dr James Sharpe
Centre de Regulació Genòmica, Barcelona (Spain)
Vertebrate limb development and repair
Dr Yaochu Jin
University of Surrey
Multi-robot self organisation
Universiteit van Amsterdam
Gene regulation in corals and sponges
Dr Veronica Grieneisen
John Innes Centre
Cell polarity, shape dynamics and patterning mechanisms in plants
FP7 STREP 601062: 2,221,000€
Zoe Dunford, JIC press office: +44 (0)1603 255111, 07768 164185, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
About the John Innes Centre
The John Innes Centre, http://www.