In research Published in early 2020, researchers at the University of Vermont in the United States have succeeded in creating “living robots” from the stem cells of a species of frog. Xenopus laevis. Stem cells are special cells, which are able not only to multiply but also to become cells of many different types, such as skin cells, nerve cells, muscle cells, etc. These robots, which are less than a millimeter in size, were designed using an artificial intelligence system. The system predicted what would be the most efficient ways to assemble cells together, to create from them a biological machine that would fulfill certain purposes, such as movement or carrying a load.
In order to actually create these robots the researchers placed in culture Stem cells Of the frog, which naturally tend to attach to clumps. After lumps formed, the researchers created the structures designed by the computer using microscopic work equipment. Finally add a layer of heart cells, which contract naturally and can create movement. This created robots that are able to move on their own and are small enough to move inside the human body and even carry materials inside it. In addition they can repair themselves if they are damaged. The researchers called these robots Xenobots: The bread of the word robot and the genus Xenopus frog.
A video from the University of Vermont showing the creation of living robots:
The article was originally published on the Davidson website
In a follow-up article, published Recently in the journal PNAS, researchers identified a surprising phenomenon – xenobots are able to reproduce, and they do so in a way unfamiliar with other living things.
The researchers placed the xenobots in a petri dish next to isolated stem cells, such as those of which they themselves are composed. Using their motility, the xenobots collected and compressed a lot of individual cells, which within five days became xenobots, new offspring with motility. That new generation of xenobots themselves began to produce offspring.
A video from the University of Vermont showing the number of robots
This form of reproduction is called spontaneous kinematic self-replication. This is a process where a machine uses available parts to make a copy of itself. This phenomenon is known in the molecular world, for example when a single cell or virus replicates with the help of building materials found in their environment, but it Has never been observed At the level of a whole creature. In the case in question here, the building blocks were free stem cells, a phenomenon which does not exist in nature.
After observing the phenomenon, the researchers wanted to see if the process could be streamlined, since when it occurs spontaneously it requires a long time and a lot of resources. To that end, they asked their artificial intelligence system to design xenobots that could replicate more efficiently. The shape that copies itself best is found to be a C-shaped robot, or a pac-man. This shape made it easier for xenobots to capture individual cells and thus create new xenobots in less time.
? Artificial life
These observations raise challenging questions about the nature of living things, and of life itself. Beyond the surprise of the very existence of cultural ability in xenobots, it is even more surprising that they did so spontaneously, since they were not designed to reproduce. Moreover, this spontaneous process took place within a few days and not in an evolutionary process of thousands of years, and without the researchers making any genetic change in the cells. This fact shows how flexible biological entities are in their ability to adapt to the environment.
It is possible that the xenobots can teach us something about the beginning of life as well, and if it turns out that spontaneous self-doubling was an important process at these stages they will be able to reveal the conditions necessary for this process to take place.
The researchers who created the xenobots promise that they are They will never get out of control And that a small change in the amount of salts in their water is enough to destroy them. In addition, their reproductive capacity depends on the supply of living stem cells, which are not freely available outside the laboratory. However, we can not predict all the possible consequences for the environment if these biological machines are released into the environment, as it is a life form that does not normally exist in nature.
After the first study they published on xenobots, the researchers stated that they could not reproduce. Maybe they should have listened more closely to Dr. Ian Malcolm from the movie “Jurassic Park” when he declared, “Life finds a way for itself.”
From the movie “Jurassic Park”: