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Xenobots, the world's first "living robots" are now able to reproduce, scientists say

2 years 2 months 3 weeks ago Tuesday, November 30 2021 Nov 30, 2021 November 30, 2021 5:37 AM November 30, 2021 in News
Source: CNN
The parent rotates a large ball of stem cells that is maturing into a new xenobot.

Researchers who used stem cells from the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) to create tiny "living robots" were surprised to see the life forms begin reproducing, according to CNN.

The living robots are called "xenobots," and in a series of events that may sound a bit similar to the premise of Jurassic Park, albeit not nearly as dramatic, scientists say the xenobots created their own unique way of generating offspring.

Michael Levin of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, a scientist who serves as co-lead author of the research team involved in the discovery, explained that the African clawed frog has its own typical way of reproducing, but once some of its stem cells are separated from the rest of the embryo, these cells apparently adapt to their new environment by "figuring out" a different way of reproducing. 

The stem cells were observed using a form of reproduction called "kinetic replication;" when placed in a dish with individual cells, they were seen collectively self-replicating. 

They created new xenobots by moving in circular motions and pushing surrounding cells into piles that eventually formed their offspring.   

To quote the fictional character, Dr. Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." 

But some may wonder why this particular form of life was given the opportunity to exist.

In other words, why were xenobots created?

Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, is quoted by CNN as saying, "There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this kind of plasticity and ability of cells to solve problems."

The research on xenobots, which was partially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is expected to lead to the development of tiny living robots that could potentially be used to deliver medicine to a host, collect microplastics in the oceans, inspect root systems, and aid in the creation of regenerative medicine.

But, scientists say such abilities are far too advanced for today's xenobots. 

Researchers add that the living machines are safe as they've been entirely contained in a lab and are easily extinguished due to their biodegradable nature. 

Scientist also say the xenobots reproduce rarely, and only in specific circumstances.

This most recent study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS, Monday.

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