"Tiny, Living Machines" The World's First 'Living' Robot can Now Reproduce
By: Riya Jha
The United States scientists who created the world’s first “living robots” are now saying that these life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce, but it is entirely unlike any reproduction process by plants or animals, TRT World reported.
The first xenobots were built by Douglas Blackiston according to blueprints generated by an AI program, which Sam Kriegman developed.
Xenobots are roughly 0.4 inches wide and were first unveiled in 2020 after a series of experiments revealed their capabilities, including working in groups and healing themselves. Xenobots are made from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), which is where the term comes from.
However, the frog cells replicate uniquely. No animal or plant known to science replicates in this way. In about five days, on its own, the Xenobot parent, made of some 3,000 cells, forms a sphere. Since they can work together, the robo-blob can move around and push single cells together to create new xenobots, reports the New Scientist.
The type of movement-created reproduction is called kinematic self-replication. The replication is well-known at the level of molecules, but it has never been observed before at the scale of whole cells or organisms.
“Xenobots reproduction is kind of like the body finding loose parts, sort of like robotics parts in the environment, and cobbling them together. Those collections then grow into asecond generation of xenobots that can move around like their parents,” Douglas Blackiston, a co-author of the Xenobot study, told NPR.
Xenobots, however, can only reproduce under specific conditions. So to make them more effective, the team used artificial intelligence, rather than genetic manipulation. First, the xenobots took on a Pac-Man shape to collect and bundle stem cells that formed new tiny xenobots configurations on a supercomputer. It found that a Pac-Man-like, C-shaped bot was the best at gathering individual stem cells in its mouth and bundling them into new baby bots.
“There is also a limit as to how many baby bots can be created. So far, xenobots can create only one more generation before dying out but these children are too small and weak to make grandchildren,” Josh Bongard, an expert in evolutionary robotics at the University of Vermont, told NPR.
“But with the help of an artificial intelligence program that predicted an optimal shape for the original xenobots, the replication could be pushed to four generations,” countered Michael Levin, Bongard’s research partner and a microbiology professor at Tufts Institute. “There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this kind of plasticity and ability of cells to solve problems.”
This is the first time multicellular organisms have been found to self-replicate in a way that doesn’t involve growth on the organism’s own body. Scientists hope to use xenobots to investigate how the first organisms on Earth may have reproduced.
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