SCIENTISTS have created the first living robots that can self-renew from frog stem cells.
Xenobots are named after the African claw (lat. Xenopus laevis), a species of frog from whose stem cells they were created. These machines are smaller than a millimeter and small enough to travel through the human body. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food and work in groups.
It’s a “completely new life form,” said scientists at the University of Vermont who, along with experts from Tufts University, created these unusual robots.
They can treat themselves
The scientists took stem cells from frog embryos and left them in incubation. The cells were then cut out and reshaped into special "body forms" designed by a supercomputer, that is, into shapes that "never existed in nature before."
The newly formed cells then began to function independently. The skin cells bound in such a way that they formed the structure of the robot, while the pulsating cells of the heart muscle allowed the machine to move on its own.
Xenobots also have the ability to heal themselves; when the scientists cut one of them, he healed himself and kept moving.
“This is a new form of living machines,” said computer scientist Joshua Bongard of the University of Vermont.
"It does not belong to either traditional robots or known animal species. It is a completely new category: a living organism that can be programmed," he added.
The research was partly funded by the Military Technology Development Agency
Xenobots could potentially be used for a number of tasks, according to a study partially funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency, which oversees the development of technology for military use.
These robots could be used to clean up radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the oceans, carry drugs inside the human body, or even clean clusters in arteries. Namely, these tiny machines can survive in liquid without additional nutrients for days or weeks, making them suitable for intracorporeal drug delivery.
In addition, scientists could use xenobot to learn more about the principles of cell biology, which would contribute to future advances in knowledge about human health and the secrets of longevity.
Can they become dangerous?
For those who recognize in this invention a scenario from apocalyptic sci-fi movies where intelligent robots take control of the world and cause the end of humanity, there is no reason to worry.
These tiny organisms are created with their own reservoir of food, lipids, and protein, which allows them to live on their own for a little over a week, but they cannot reproduce or evolve. Only their lifespan can be extended to a few weeks if they are placed in a nutrient-rich environment.