CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A new proof-of-concept study details how an automated system driven by artificial intelligence can design, build, test and learn complex biochemical pathways to efficiently produce lycopene, a red pigment found in tomatoes and commonly used as a food coloring, opening the door to a wide range of biosynthetic applications, researchers report.
The results of the study, which combined a fully automated robotic platform called the Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing with AI to achieve biomanufacturing, are published in the journal Nature Communications.
"Biofoundries are factories that mimic the foundries that build semiconductors, but are designed for biological systems instead of electrical systems," said Huimin Zhao, a University of Illinois chemical and biomolecular engineering professor who led the research.
However, because biology offers many pathways to chemical production, the researchers assert that a system driven by AI and capable of choosing from thousands of experimental iterations is required for true automation.
Previous biofoundry efforts have produced a wide variety of products such as chemicals, fuels, and engineered cells and proteins, the researchers said, but those studies were not performed in a fully automated manner.
"Past studies in biofoundry development mainly focused on only one of the design, build, test and learn elements," Zhao said.