World’s first living robots can now reproduce, scientists say

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The world’s first living robots — known as “xenobots” — can now reproduce, US scientists have revealed.

Details about the robots, created using the heart and skin stem cells from the African clawed frog, were unveiled last year after experiments showed they could move and self-heal.

Now, the scientists at Tufts University, the University of Vermont and Harvard who made the xenobots say the tiny blobs can also self-replicate.

The results of the new research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Experiments showed that the organisms can swim out into their dish, find other single cells and assemble “baby” xenobots.

A few days later, the babies become new xenobots that look and move just like the initial creation.

xenobots, which are made from the stem cells of frogs, have the ability to transform hundreds of single cells into versions of themselves
Xenobots, which are made from the stem cells of frogs, have the ability to transform hundreds of single cells into versions of themselves.
Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman

The new xenobots can then go out and self-replicate again, according to the scientists.

Xenobots, which are less than a millimeter wide, are designed on a computer and hand-assembled.

The scientists said they were stunned to learn the tiny blobs could spontaneously replicate.

“People have thought for quite a long time that we’ve worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate. But this is something that’s never been observed before,” said Douglas Blackiston, who worked on the study.

xenobots
The organisms can swim out into their dish, find other single cells and assemble “baby” xenobots.
Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman

“This is profound,” added Michael Levin, co-leader of the research. “These cells have the genome of a frog, but, freed from becoming tadpoles, they use their collective intelligence, a plasticity, to do something astounding.”

The team said the new research could be beneficial for advancements in regenerative medicine.

“If we knew how to tell collections of cells to do what we wanted them to do, ultimately, that’s regenerative medicine — that’s the solution to traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer, and aging,” Levin said.

“All of these different problems are here because we don’t know how to predict and control what groups of cells are going to build. Xenobots are a new platform for teaching us.”

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