University of Nottingham Ningbo China
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Robot Scientists: Automating Biology and Chemistry

17 May 2013 (13:00-14:00)

About the talk

A Robot Scientist is a physically implemented robotic system that applies techniques from artificial intelligence to execute cycles of automated scientific experimentation. A Robot Scientist can automatically execute cycles of hypothesis formation, selection of efficient experiments to discriminate between hypotheses, execution of experiments using laboratory automation equipment, and analysis of results. We are interested in developing Robot Scientists for philosophical and technological reasons. Science is also an excellent test-bed for developing Artificial Intelligence methods. We developed the first Robot Scientist ‘Adam’ to investigate yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) functional genomics. Adam autonomously identified genes encoding locally ‘orphan’ enzymes in yeast. Adam is the first time a machine has discovered novel scientific knowledge. To describe Adam's research we have developed an ontology and logical language. Use of these produced a formal argument involving over 10,000 different research units that relates Adam's 6.6 million biomass measurements to its conclusions. More recently we have developed the Robot Scientist “Eve” to automate and integrate drug discovery: drug screening, hit conformation, and QSAR development. Eve utilises novel synthetic biology screens that combine the advantages of computational, target-based, and cell-based assays. Our focus has been on neglected tropical disease, and using Eve we have discovered lead compounds for malaria, Chagas, African sleeping sickness, etc.


Ross D. King is Professor of Machine Intelligence at the University of Manchester, UK. His main research interests are in the interface between computer science and biology/chemistry. The research achievement he is most proud of is originating the idea of a "Robot Scientist": using laboratory robotics to physically implement a closed-loop scientific discovery system. His work on this subject has been published in top scientific journals, Nature, Science, and has received wide publicity. He is also very interested in computational aesthetics and economics.