The world’s first self-regenerating ‘living’ robot made by scientists

They may look like chicken nuggets, but they’re actually robots (Credit: Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman)

Scientists have created living robots made from frog cells that can reproduce and could be the answer to everything from cleaning up rivers of microplastics to curing diseases cancer.

‘xenobots’ can assemble babies by swimming around and collecting hundreds of single cells in their Pac-Man-shaped mouths, according to a new study.

The newborn frog bots can then repeat the process to create clones that look and move just like themselves.

They could be deployed to remove pollution from rivers and oceans, and help find a cure for cancer.

Lead author Professor Joshua Bongard at the University of Vermont said: ‘We have discovered that there is a previously unknown space inside living organisms or systems, and that is a space. large space.

‘How do we explore that space?

‘We found the walking Xenobots. We found Xenobots that can swim.

‘And now, in this study, we’ve found Xenobots that can regenerate kinetics.

‘What else is out there?’

The Pac-man-shaped Xenobot ‘parent’ moves around their environment and collects loose stem cells that, over time, recombine to produce ‘children’. (Credit: Doug Blackiston and Sam Kriegman)

The researchers removed living cells from frog embryos and assembled them into millimeter-wide robots using computer models.

Normally these cells would develop into the skin of frogs, but in this new context, they behave differently, the researchers found.

Co-author Professor Michael Levin at Tufts University said: ‘These cells have the genome of a frog, but, freed from becoming tadpoles, they use collective intelligence, a plasticity. tough, to do something amazing.’

The cells cooperated to perform basic tasks, like moving to a target and healing themselves after being cut.

Researchers removed living cells from frog embryos (Shutterstock)

Now, researchers have found these computer-engineered creatures have gone a step further and are capable of reproducing.

Professor Levin said: ‘We have the complete, unaltered frog genome, but there is no suggestion that these cells could work together on the new task of assembling and then compacting cells. cells separate into self-functioning copies.’

This new method of reproduction, known as Kinematic replication, has never been observed in whole cells or organisms before.

Lead author Dr Sam Kriegman at the University of Vermont said: ‘These are frog cells that replicate in a very different way from how frogs do.

‘No animal or plant known to science reproduces this way.’

If left to their own devices, the robots can regenerate themselves, but then they will die.

To overcome this, the researchers tested billions of body shapes using an artificial intelligence program, including triangles, squares, pyramids, and starfish.

Dr Kriegman said: ‘We asked the supercomputer at UVM to figure out how to adjust the shape of the original parent, and the AI ​​came up with some strange designs over the course of many months, including one Pac-Man-like design.

‘It looks very simple, but it’s not something a human engineer could come up with.

‘Why is there a small mouth? Why not the year?

‘We sent the results to Doug and he built these Pac-Man shape Xenobots.

‘So those parents created children, people made grandchildren, people created great-grandchildren, people created great-grandchildren.’

The researchers say that while some people may find the findings ‘exciting’, others may react with ‘anxiety or even horror’.

An AI-designed Pac-Man ‘parent’ organism (red) next to stem cells that have been compressed into a ball – ‘children’ (green) (Credit: Douglas Blackiston)

But their goal is to deepen their understanding of duplication and the tiny robots that can be finished off in the blink of an eye.

Professor Bongard said: ‘The world and technology are changing rapidly, and it is important for society as a whole that we study and understand how this works.

‘These millimeter-sized living machines, completely laboratory-contained, easily extinguished and tested by federal, state and institutional ethics experts, are not what keep me awake. night. “

Robotic artificial intelligence could help solve some of the biggest environmental and health challenges facing the world today, from renewable medicine to cleaning up rivers of microplastics.

Professor Bongard said: ‘If we know how to command subsets of cells to do what we want them to do, then ultimately it’s regenerative medicine – it’s the solution to traumatic injury, anomaly birth defects, cancer and aging.

‘All these different problems lie here because we don’t know how to predict and control what groups of cells will form.

‘Xenobots are a new platform to teach us.’

He added: ‘We aim to accelerate how quickly people can go from identifying a problem to creating solutions like deploying living machines to pull microplastics out of the way. water or make new medicines.’

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Huynh Nguyen

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