Xenobots – a new form of life?

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Scientists have successfully created the first-ever cell-based living robot: the Xenobots. These robots are an embodiment of the wonders the fusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Biological World could bring about, and have never been witnessed before on the surface of planet Earth. They are truly a new form of life.

“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

Xenobots are made from the stem cells of an African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). These cells have been programmed and put together in certain specified configurations.

‘’You look at the cells we’ve been building our Xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It is 100 percent frog DNA – but these are not frogs,’’

Michael Levin, Biologist at Tufts University.
A Xenobot made from heart and skin cells of a frog. Source: Dezeen.com

Xenobots were first created at the University of Vermont in collaboration with Tufts University. Living stem cells were scraped from an embryo of a frog and incubated. They were then virtually put together in different configurations by using a supercomputer. The supercomputer used evolutionary algorithms to virtually create several configurations of those cells and simulated the results. The researchers specified an outcome and the supercomputer provided them with hundreds of configurations with most to least success rates. The most promising configurations were then physically forged using microscopic forceps and electrodes to get the world’s first ever Xenobots using skin and heart cells of the frog. It was seen that the skin cells held these programmable organism together while the myogenic heart cells helped them propel. Different configurations were used by cutting and reshaping to achieve different outcomes.

Supercomputer virtual configurations with their corresponding Xenobots at the bottom. Source: Dezeen.com

Xenobots are very tiny and biological novel machines. These submillimeter blobs containing between 500 to 1000 cells are capable of enclosing minute payloads, self-healing, and locomotion. Unlike traditional robots, they have a pink, fleshy look and operate on their own once programmed and created.

While the Xenobots are deemed as living, these robots cannot reproduce or replicate yet. They are also biodegradable which makes them safe and environmentally friendly unlike the traditional robots made of plastic and metals.

According to researchers, Xenobots could of potential use in a wide range of tasks. Their ability to survive for days without any nutrients makes them useful for internal drug delivery systems. They can be used for cleaning up radioactive waste, collect plaque, and remove microplastics from the oceans. Furthermore, the research itself could open doors towards advanced health and regenerative medicine by unveiling more about cell biology and 3-D biological cell programming. This knowledge can end birth defects, defeat cancer, and put a stop to degenerative diseases.

While the Xenobots can be a huge step towards a brighter and more advanced future, they can also pose a threat to humanity. These robots can be used as bioweapons and can be incorporated into nervous system cells if developed further. Therefore, ethical and regulatory guidelines should be set as this field of research grows.

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