Scientists Say 'Living Robots' Can Now Reproduce

Scientists have announced that xenobots, the world's first "living robots," can now reproduce.

 

Xenobots are made from the stem cells of the African clawed frog — or the Xenopus laevis, which is where they get their name.

 

To create them, a team of scientists at the University of Vermont used a supercomputer to design a blueprint, which was assembled by biologists at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

 

They separated stem cells from frog embryos into single cells, and left them to incubate. Then, under a microscope, the cells were cut and joined to match the computer designs, creating an entirely new organism.

 

Less than a millimeter wide and spherical in shape, xenobots can be "programmed" to complete tasks similarly to robots. They can move around by themselves, heal themselves if they get hurt, and have even shown evidence of keeping memory.

 

Now, working together with Harvard University, the researchers have discovered that these xenobots can reproduce in a way that has been seen in molecules, but never before in plants or animals.

 

Within five days of being brought together, xenobots form spheres of about 3,000 cells. While observing this, the team noticed that different clusters of cells appeared to work together by pushing loose cells together into new clusters, eventually forming new xenobots.

 

These new xenobots were smaller than the originals, and in only one out of five trials were the "children" able to produce a further generation of their own.

 

To improve the effectiveness of the xenobots' reproduction, scientists used artificial intelligence to experiment with different body shapes. They found that a shape resembling Pac-Man was the best at gathering cells into new clusters.

 

The new shape resulted in spherical "child" xenobots that were not only able to make more xenobots themselves — they were so large that a total of up to four generations of children could be made.

 

Xenobots do not yet have any practical application, but the researchers hope they could one day be used to fix electrical circuits or clean up microplastics in the oceans.

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