The US scientists who developed their very first live robots claim that the living forms, also known as xenobots are now reproducing — in a way that isn’t seen in animals or plants.
Originating from the stem cells that make up the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it gets its name, xenobots have smaller than one millimetre (0.04 inches) large. These tiny blobs were first presented in 2020 after tests demonstrated that they could move, collaborate as a group and self-heal.
The scientists who developed these from the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering claimed to have discovered a completely new method of reproduction that is different from any other animal or plant previously discovered by science.
« I was astounded by it, » said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University who was co-author of the research.
« Frogs have a method of reproducing which they usually utilize, however in the event that the … remove (the embryos) from the rest of the embryo , and you allow them to discover how to relocate to a new setting and not just discover a different method of moving in the new environment, they also discover an innovative method to reproduce.. »
A robot or an organism?
Stem cells are non-specialized cells with the capacity to grow into various cell types. To create xenobots, researchers removed living stem cells from the embryos of frogs and let them incubate. There is no manipulation of genes.
« The majority of people think of robots as being made of ceramics and metals. However, it’s not about what a robot is constructed of, but rather what it does that is, which is to act in its own behalf on behalf of humans, » HTML0said Josh Bongard, a professor of computer science in the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.
« In that way it’s a robot but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell. »
Bongard claimed that they discovered that the xenobots that were sphere-shaped and constructed of 3,000 cells could reproduce. However, it was rare and only under certain conditions. The xenobots utilized « kinetic replication » — the process is known to occur at the molecular level but has not been seen before on the scale of entire organisms or cells, Bongard said.
With the aid of Artificial Intelligence, researchers then studied billions of body shapes to increase the efficiency of xenobots in this kind of replication. The supercomputer created the shape of a C that was reminiscent of Pac-Man, the 1980s-era video game from the 1980s. It could find the smallest stem cells within a dishes, and then put them all in the mouth of its creator, then then a couple of days later, the bundle of cells transformed into a new generation of xenobots.
« The AI didn’t program these machines in the way we usually think about writing code. It shaped and sculpted and came up with this Pac-Man shape, » Bongard explained.
« The shape is, in essence, the program. The shape influences how the xenobots behave to amplify this incredibly surprising process. »
The xenobots are a very primitive technology Think of a computer from the 1940s -they don’t have many applications in the real world. However, this blend of molecular biology with artificial intelligence could be utilized in many different tasks in the body and the environment, According to the researchers. This could be for collecting microplastics in oceans or examining root systems—regenerative medical treatments.
The possibility of self-replicating biotechnology might cause concerns; the researchers stated that living machines are completely contained in a laboratory and were easily wiped out. They are biodegradable and regulated by experts in ethics.
The research was partly paid for through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a federal government agency that oversees the development of technologies to be used in military applications.
« There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this kind of plasticity and ability of cells to solve problems, » Bongard declared.