Scientists develop biological robots from living cells

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Have scientists finally created a robot which is truly alive? A machine which does not rely on artificial intelligence to imitate life, but can actually think?

It would seem so, with a team of scientists creating a new breed of robots, not made from metal, plastic and wiring. Rather, a robot which is created from living cells.

Reporting in the journal PNAS, researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University describe how they fashioned the first-ever “living machines” out of cells taken from frog embryos. 

Nicknamed xenobots, these miniature creations were constructed using algorithms that mirror the forces of natural selection. 

The co-lead author Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont, explains in a statement that these are novel living machines.

“These are novel living machines. They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artefact: a living, programmable organism,” he states in the statement.

Why would scientists create new lifeforms? Especially when they are as small as the xenobots, which are approximately 650 to 750 microns in diameter?

In the released statement, co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts explains the new creatures were designed on a supercomputer, before undergoing assembly and testing by biologists at Tufts University.

As for their use, he says researchers can think of many useful applications for these living machines. Applications which other machines are incapable of doing, he says.

Some of these applications entail searching for radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque, or delivering medication in a person’s body.

Furthermore, the xenobots can be designed to regenerate themselves, healing themselves when damaged. They are also completely biodegradable. 

While planning the project, the team started by creating an evolutionary algorithm. The algorithm simulates natural selection in order to guide the xenobots’ design.

Furthermore, the team assigned a task, such as movement in one direction. They then allowed the computer to virtually assemble the simulated cells in different forms. It did so repeatedly until one performed the skill.

Inspired by the design constructed by the AI, the team built the xenobots using the skin and heart muscle cells of an African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis).

While the xenobots can prove to be useful, there are implications, One of these is, could the creation of the xenobots crack the very code of life?

What are your thoughts on the creation of living machines? Share your views and opinions with us in the comment section below.

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