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Scientists Have Engineered Living Robots That Possess The Ability to Reproduce

By: April Carson


US researchers, who pioneered the creation of living robots, recently announced that these revolutionary organisms--known as xenobots--possess a unique capacity for self-replication which is not observed in any other species.


Xenobots, derived from the stem cells of African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis), are minuscule in size – measuring less than a millimeter (.04 inches) wide. Unveiled in 2020 after successful experiments that revealed their ability to move and work together as a team while self-healing, these tiny blobs have been met with incredible enthusiasm.


The recent discovery of their reproductive capabilities has further added to the possibilities for these living robots. By studying how this natural process works, scientists may be able to use xenobots’ self-replication abilities to create swarms of them that can be programmed and deployed to various locations.


Recently, a group of scientists from Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the University of Vermont, and Tufts University unveiled their new research: an entirely novel type of biological reproduction that is distinct from any other plant or animal species known to us.


"I was sincerely taken aback," remarked Michael Levin, a biology professor and Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University who served as co-lead author on the research paper. "We expected the blobs to reproduce, but we weren't prepared for them to do so in such an efficient and organized manner."


Using a combination of genetic engineering and 3D bioprinting, the scientists designed living robots called "xenobots" that are made from frog stem cells. These xenobots possess the remarkable ability to not only survive but also reproduce themselves -- making them self-replicating systems unlike any other seen before in nature.


Stem cells, which are unspecialized and able to transform into a variety of cell types, were the starting point for these xenobots. The researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos and let them incubate without altering their genes in any way. Then, they manipulated the cells with robotic tools to create living robots.


According to Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert from the University of Vermont who is leading a recent study on robots, "We often associate robots with metal and ceramic materials; however, it's more about their capacity for self-action in helping people than what they are made out of."


This robotic organism is created from completely natural frog cells, making it a unique combination of an automated machine and living creature.


Bongard discovered that the xenobots, which were initially spherical and composed of around 3,000 cells, could reproduce. Though it was a rare occurrence and only in certain situations, they employed "kinetic replication" - something that has been seen on a molecular level but never before at such an extensive scale with organisms or individual cells.


By combining the principles of evolutionary computation, genetics and robotics, scientists have been able to create these living robots that are able to move about their environment and interact with it. The xenobots serve as an example of how we can use this technology for the advancement in medical advancements, such as drug delivery or tissue engineering applications.


Researchers utilized Artificial Intelligence to experiment with billions of body shapes in order to enhance the replication capabilities of xenobots. The supercomputer eventually produced a C-shaped structure, reminiscent of the 1980s game Pacman. After completing trials in a petri dish, it was determined that this shape enabled these "Pacmen" bots to gather hundreds of cells inside their mouth and form new xenobots within days.


According to Bongard, the AI wasn't programmed in traditional methods of writing code but instead used a form of sculpting and molding leading to the creation of Pac-Man. The AI's design was based on the locomotion capabilities of other organisms, and its ability to replicate offers potential applications in medical technology.


The xenobots are still rudimentary technology, and presently have no practical applications. However, the merging of molecular biology and artificial intelligence could allow for a plethora of uses both inside the body and outside in nature; this may include things like gathering microplastics from ocean beds, inspecting root systems, or regenerative medicine.


Disregarding any apprehension that self-replicating biotechnology might provoke, the researchers noted that their living machines were safely contained in a laboratory and easily eliminated; plus, they are not just eco-friendly but ethically regulated thanks to experts. The ethical guidelines these robots must adhere to guarantee that they are safe, secure and only used for beneficial purposes.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a federal agency devoted to the development of technology for military use, contributed financially to this research. The agency hopes that the development of self-replicating robots can provide solutions to environmental challenges as well as aid in humanitarian crisis relief and military operations.


The study was featured in the esteemed PNAS journal and published for all to see.













Billy Carson & Ron Taylor "Meet the Snows"


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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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