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The 'living robots' created by American scientists have learned to reproduce

American scientists who created the first living robots say life forms known as xenobots can now reproduce in ways that plants and animals cannot. The edition told in more detail CNN.

Photo: Shutterstock

Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), xenobots are less than a millimeter wide. The tiny droplets were first discovered in 2020. Experiments have shown that they can move, work together in groups, and self-repair.

Now scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and the Wyss Institute of Biological Engineering at Harvard University who developed them have claimed that they have discovered a completely new form of biological reproduction, unlike any animal or plant known to science.

“I was amazed,” said Michael Levin, professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, who was one of the lead authors of the new study. - Frogs have a way of reproduction that they usually use, but when we freed the cells from the rest of the embryo and gave them a chance to figure out how to live in a new environment, they not only found a new way of locomotion, but also, apparently, came up with a new one breeding method ".

Robot or organism

Stem cells are non-specialized cells that can develop into different types of cells. To create xenobots, the researchers scraped off living stem cells from frog embryos and left them to incubate. There is no gene manipulation here.

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“Most people think robots are made of metals and ceramics, but it's not so much what the robot is made of, but what it makes,” said Josh Bongard, professor of computer science and robotics, a University of Vermont expert and lead author of the study. ... "So it's a robot, but it's also clearly an organism made from a genetically unmodified frog cell."

Bongard said they found that xenobots, which were originally spherical and comprised of roughly 3000 cells, can reproduce. But this happened rarely and only under certain circumstances. According to Bongard, xenobots used "kinetic replication," a process known to take place at the molecular level but has never been seen before on the scale of whole cells or organisms.

Then, using artificial intelligence, the researchers tested billions of body shapes to make xenobots more efficient at this type of replication. The supercomputer has received a C-shape, reminiscent of Pac-Man. They found that he could find tiny stem cells in a Petri dish, collect hundreds of them, and after a few days, a bundle of cells turned into new xenobots.

“AI hasn't programmed these machines in the way we usually think of writing code. He shaped, sculpted and came up with a shape, ”Bongard said. - A form is, in fact, a program. Form affects the behavior of xenobots to enhance this incredibly amazing process. "

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Xenobots are a very early technology and have no practical application yet. However, according to the researchers, this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence can potentially be used to solve a variety of problems related to the body and the environment. This could include things like collecting microplastics in the oceans, checking the root system, and regenerative medicine.

While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology may be troubling, the researchers said the living machines were completely contained in the laboratory and could be easily "killed" because they are biodegradable and the process is regulated by ethics experts.

The study was funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a federal agency that oversees the development of technology for military use.

“There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this plasticity and the ability of cells to solve problems,” Bongard said.

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