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Minibeasts of burden

Train rotifers to build stuff
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Microscopic devices for assembling small things do not appear to be widely available or cheap. However, in days of yore it was possible for oxen, horses and humans to be harnessed to build rather larger artifacts such as pyramids and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

My idea is very simple. There are very small, widely available animals with brains which can therefore be trained to some degree - planarians can be trained to solve a maze, so clearly rotifers can. Hence i suggest that rotifers be trained to construct small, intricate machinery such as watches, analytical engines and one-millionth scale models of the United Kingdom out of the likes of grains of sand, alum and so forth. I also envisage attaching tiny ropes to them and getting them to pull things.

It would be free labour.

nineteenthly, Sep 05 2011


       Like a flea circus? But for *really* small fleas.
zen_tom, Sep 05 2011

       Quite similar. I was thinking bdelloid rotifers because they're tough and parthenogenic. In fact, maybe there should also be performing rotifer circi.
nineteenthly, Sep 05 2011

       // And rotifers are aquatic, aren't they? //   

       Yes indeed, but i can see them nudging things into position with their coronas. For instance, if they're positively phototrophic, they could probably be induced to build a circle of sand grains around a light source, though that wouldn't need training.
nineteenthly, Sep 05 2011

       So, are you suggesting that rotifers might be able to meet all of our circle-of-sand- around-a-light-source needs in the foreseeable future??
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 05 2011

       Not just circles. By using monochromatic light to generate interference fringes, the little guys could be induced to construct more complex structures.
mouseposture, Sep 05 2011

       Now... with most of these "Train X to do Y" ideas, there tends to be a notable shortcoming in one aspect...   

       How do you propose to train creatures with only a handful of nerve cells?
ye_river_xiv, Sep 05 2011

       Or possibly less than a handful.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 05 2011

       Less brain in a rotifer than a mule, and that's saying something.
BunsenHoneydew, Sep 05 2011

       'Training' of very simple creatures is possible, given the right approach.   

       Clearly, we can't expect to put a circuit diagram in front of a hydra and expect results.   

       We can, however, exploit the creatures existing responses by creating false stimulii. This is closer to biochemistry than lion taming.
Twizz, Sep 06 2011

       More than a handful, about fifteen in fact, presumably depending on the species. Well, it may be that even a paramoecium can learn, though that might have been a mistake. The possibility of certain stimuli remains even so. I am still holding out for the idea that they can learn.
nineteenthly, Sep 06 2011

       I'm still holding out for the explanation of how we get them to do anything other than moving sand into circles.
ye_river_xiv, Sep 06 2011

       OK. You get them to move sand into a circle, then you place a coverslip on top of their handiwork, get them to make a slightly smaller circle with a slightly dimmer light or weaker flavour or something, and so on until you have a cone. Then you do the same but increase the strength of the stimulus. Then you whip all the coverslips out in a single deft movement and melt them together in a kiln, and you have an hourglass.
nineteenthly, Sep 06 2011

       I'd start with caddis fly larvae, who build tiny tubes out of grains of sand or bits of weed. With a little adaptation, this behaviour could be harnessed to make tiny tubes out of grains of sand or bits of weed.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 06 2011

       // How do you propose to train creatures with only a handful of nerve cells? //   

       Easy - copy the McDonalds staff training programme.   

       // we can't expect to put a circuit diagram in front of a hydra and expect results //   

       Well, obviously. Hydra are much more adept at HVAC design, and landscape gardening.   

       // exploit the creatures existing responses by creating false stimulii.//   

       ... otherwise known as "TV Advertising".   

       // This is closer to biochemistry than lion taming //   

       ... and still much, much more exciting than Accountancy, Mr. Anchovy. Perhaps you could get the illuminated sign on your hat reprinted ?   

       // tiny tubes out of grains of sand or bits of weed //   

       Give them little grains of graphite and let them build carbon nanotubes ...
8th of 7, Sep 06 2011

       As it happens, this idea started with microscopic rotifer-like robots made entirely out of various allotropes of carbon, which were fed on soot and pencil leads. Oh, and caddis flies? Doubleplusgood.
nineteenthly, Sep 06 2011

       It's an interesting approach, even if only interestingly wrong. Mind if I link it elsewhere (a public site, like this one) for idle pondering by wiser and better informed heads than I?
BunsenHoneydew, Sep 10 2011


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