In 2020 a group of US scientists claimed to create the first “living” robot. And, now they say that this life-form, known as “Xenobots” is capable of reproduction. In this article, we go through the discovery of the world’s first reproducing robot, and how it should change the way we see robots and man maid micro-organisms.
Xenobots, from which they get their name, are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) diameter and are created from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). In 2020, the microscopic blobs were first made public after tests revealed their ability to move, collaborate in groups, and self-heal.
The researchers that created them at the Universities of Vermont, Tufts, and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering now claim to have found a brand-new type of biological reproduction that is distinct from any animal or plant currently known to science.
Unspecialized cells called stem cells can differentiate into several cell types. The scientists took living stem cells from frog embryos and incubated them to create the Xenobots. No genetic tinkering took place according to the publications.
The xenobots, which were initially sphere-shaped and composed of about 3,000 cells, could proliferate, according to Bongard. But it only seldom occurred, and only under certain conditions. The xenobots employed a mechanism called “kinetic replication,” which is well-known to take place at the molecular level but has never been seen at the level of entire cells or animals, according to Bongard.
The researchers then used artificial intelligence to evaluate billions of body configurations to improve the reproduction efficiency of the xenobots. The supercomputer generated a C-shape that was reminiscent of the video game Pac-Man from the 1980s. They discovered it was able to harvest hundreds of microscopic stem cells from a petri dish, place them inside of its mouth, then a few days later these cells were released as Xenobots.
Possible applications ?
The xenobots are relatively primitive technology; picture a computer from the 1940s; they have no current uses. However, the researchers claim that this fusion of molecular biology and artificial intelligence has the potential to be applied to a variety of functions in the body and the environment. This may involve activities like regenerative medicine, root system inspection, and the collection of microplastics in the oceans.
This discovery of the the world’s first reproducing robot, and its self-replicating biotechnology raises ethical questions. However, the researchers emphasized that the living machines were totally contained in a lab and quickly extinguished because they are biodegradable and subject to ethics expert regulation.