By: April Carson
Researchers have developed robots composed of living cells that can not only complete tasks, but also produce — and they do so in a way that no other living creature does.
The African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), which is also known as the Xenopus, is a family of synthetic lifeforms first announced in 2020. They're constructed from a mix of early frog embryo skin and heart muscle cells. Despite their genome, they are not frogs.
The blueprint for this mechanism was designed on a computer. Cells were placed in a pattern that enables them to perform activities like moving, pushing, or carrying stuff. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Xenobots can replicate thanks to the proper design.
Microscopic kinematic replication is how they do it. This has been observed at the molecular level, but never on this scale. The study demonstrates that living cells have a greater range of behaviors than previously thought.
“People have long believed that we've figured out all of the ways to reproduce or replicate life. But this has never been seen before,” said Dr. Douglas Blackiston, the senior scientist at Tufts University who built the Xenobot "parents," in a statement released by IFLScience.
“This is how frog cells replicate in a manner that differs from what frogs do,” said senior author Dr. Sam Kriegman of the Tuft's Allen Center and Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. “No animal or plant known to humanity replicates in this manner,” he added.
After having reproduced once, the version of the replicating Xenobot would perish rapidly. As a result, the team went back to their Artificial Intelligence tool that is used to create these living machines and tasked it with creating a variant that would not just die. To achieve this end, the AI performed billions of trials.
“We asked the supercomputer at UVM [University of Vermont] to figure out how to modify the form of the initial parents, and after months of chugging away, the AI produced some weird shapes, including one that looked like Pac-Man.” It's difficult to understand.
It appears to be straightforward, yet it isn't something a human engineer would come up with. Why just one tiny mouth? Why not five? We gave the findings to Doug, and he created these Pac-Man-shaped parent Xenobots after consulting them.” Then those parents had children, who produced great-great-grandchildren, which generated great-great-great-grandchildren.”
Many people are concerned about self-replicating biotechnology, but the team explains that the Xenobots are contained in a laboratory and can be easily destroyed, as well as being reviewed by federal, state, and institutional ethics experts. The team is more worried about other issues in society and how quickly our technology is able to change.
“As we look to the future, it's critical that we develop technological solutions that can keep up with the problems we'll face,” said co-author Dr. Joshua Bongard. Their potential to be fast and adaptable could make Xenobots the answer to a variety of issues, including collecting microplastic and medical applications.
“If we knew how to command populations of cells to perform what we want them to, that's regenerative medicine—that's the answer to traumatic injuries, birth defects, cancer, and aging," co-author Professor Michael Levin said.
“All of these difficulties stem from the fact that we don't know how to anticipate or regulate which cell populations will be formed. Xenobots are a revolutionary teaching tool for us.”
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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