Self-replicating xenobot breakthrough
The US scientists that created the world’s first living robots, dubbed Xenobots, have now discovered that they can reproduce in a way that has not been observed in any other organism, CNN reported.
According to the study’s lead author, Josh Bongard, the xenobots use “kinetic replication” — a process known to occur at a molecular level but had never been seen before in whole cells or organisms.
The C-shaped parent xenobots collect and compress loose stem cells together into piles which can mature into offspring.
Research co-lead Michael Levin is a biology professor and director of the Allen Discovery Centre at Tufts University.
“Frogs have a way of reproducing that they normally use,” CNN quoted Levin as saying.
“But when you liberate [the cells] from the rest of the embryo, and you give them a chance to figure out how to be in a new environment, not only do they figure out a new way to move, but they also figure out apparently a new way to reproduce.”
Created from stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) and initially revealed in 2020, early experiments showed that xenobots could move, work together, and self-heal.
To create the xenobots, researchers took live stem cells from frog embryos and left them to incubate.
“In that way, it’s a robot, but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cells,” Bongard said.
Using artificial intelligence (AI), the research team tested different body shapes to improve the efficiency of xenobot replication — which previously happened rarely and only in specific situations.
Their testing found that a C-shape—reminiscent of Pacman—was the most efficient shape.
They found it could to find hundreds of stem cells in a petri dish and collect them inside its “mouth”.
The bundle formed by the parent xenobot would then develop over a few days to create offspring.
While this is still early technology and doesn’t have any practical uses yet, the intersection of AI and molecular biology could potentially be used in various tasks, both in the body and the environment.
“There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this kind of plasticity and ability of cells to solve problems,” Bongard said.
Now read: Why South Africa gets so many Covid-19 variants of concern