Scientists have created living “xenobots” that replicate themselves

In nature, most organisms reproduce either by mating and producing offspring or by creating clones of themselves. But a new mode of propagation is emerging: new living robots can self-replicate by grouping cells together and creating ramifications of themselves.

Let’s break down what this really means. These robots are called xenobots – they are synthetic life forms made up of clumps of stem cells scraped from the embryos of African clawed frogs. Using artificial intelligence, a team of engineers and computer scientists from the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University tested different body shapes for their living robots. They found that a Pac-Man-like C-shape made small clusters of cells the most efficient at self-replicating.

When researchers say robots can self-replicate, that doesn’t mean they’re actually reproducing. What they mean is that in this C-shaped formation, the group can propel themselves around a petri dish using hair-shaped eyelashes, which lie on the outside of each cell. As it moves, the group gathers other wandering cells and groups them together until they form their own xenobot. But this process does not last forever. Cells were only able to do this for a few generations of xenobots.

“Most people think of robots as being made of metals and ceramics, but it is not so much what a robot is made of but what it does, that is, acts on its own at the name of the people, “Josh Bongard, an expert professor of computer science and robotics at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, said CNN. “In that way, it’s a robot, but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cells.”

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The team introduced the concept of their new robots early last year in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and first created their xenobots earlier this year. This form of self-replication, however, is a new development and is not carried out by any other living organism. However, xenobots naturally disintegrate after a few weeks. The new findings were also recently published in PNAS.

“People have thought for quite a long time that we have worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate itself. But this is something that has never been observed before, ”said Douglas Blackiston, co-author of Tufts University who brought the Xenobot“ parents ”together in a meeting. declaration published by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Having self-replicating machines could open up a plethora of possibilities in both science and medicine, Bongard said The Guardian. “They are very small, biodegradable and biocompatible machines, and they are perfectly happy in freshwater,” he said, adding that xenobots could collect microplastics from waterways or repair electrical circuits.

These self-assembling robots could also provide insight into how certain species, like frogs and salamanders, can regenerate body parts while humans can only regenerate skin or pieces of liver, Sam Kriegman said. , co-author and engineer from Tufts University. Initiated. He added that they have planned many future experiments for their living robots, but at the moment xenobots are “just balls of engines”.

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