Experts reveal stunning 'living' robot find to reinvent technology — Science breakthrough

Ruben Fields
January 17, 2020

Joshua Bongard, the expert from the University of Vermont, said: "These are novel living machines". Aside from these immediate practical tasks, the xenobots could also help researchers to learn more about cell biology - opening the doors to future advancement in human health and longevity. "For these people, hard questions could arise about whether these xenobots should be classified as living creatures or machines". The skin cells act as a sort of scaffolding to hold everything together, while the contractions of the heart cell muscles are put to work to propel the xenobots. First, they gathered and incubated stem cells from embryos of African frogs (Xenopus laevis, hence the name "xenobots").

Such tiny robots could "heal" themselves when damaged, avoiding the need for hard maintenance and fix, and when they've completed their job they can simply break down organically. Able to survive for days and even weeks, these xenobots could eventually be used to deliver drugs inside the body and to clean up the environment. They say they have been able to use a cell-based construction toolkit to build living systems that has been designed using evolutionary algorithms. A team of researchers from the University of Vermont have successfully designed and built "living" robots using different types of cells scraped from frogs. They used tiny forceps and electrode to assemble the single cells into a close approximation of the computer designs.

It may be noted that the University of Vermont joined with Tufts University to develop such new and extraordinary life-forms.

Among other things, the Xenobots can be employed to clean up radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the ocean while helping humans gain more insight into cell biology and find ways to fix birth defects, critical injuries, even stop aging. It's a new class of artefact: "a living, programmable organism". Then, the cells had been slashed and changed into certain "body forms" created by supercomputers.

The scientists would assign a desired outcome - such as locomotion - and the algorithm would create candidate designs aimed to produce that outcome.

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These machines moved about an aqueous environment for up to a week without the need for additional nutrients, powered by their own "pre-loaded" energy stores in the form of lipids and proteins.

This task was handled by a team of researchers at Tufts University led by co-lead author Michael Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts.

They worked by pushing pellets around and organising themselves spontaneously and collectively, according to the researchers. They are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. "We sliced the robot nearly in half and it stitches itself back up and keeps going".

Levin says that being fearful of what complex biological manipulations can bring about is "not unreasonable", and are very likely going to result in at least some "unintended consequences", but explains that the current research aims to get a handle on such consequences. If the systems become sufficiently complex, it might be impossible for humans to predict how they will start to behave.

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