The first-ever tiny self-reproducing robots: Xenobots

What are Xenobots?

According to research published in the scientific magazine, Xenobots are indeed the world’s foremost self-reproducing living robots. They were initially presented in 2020 when studies discovered that they might migrate as well as join together. They are made from the stem cells of such an African-clawed frog. According to experts, Xenobots are a completely new kind of biological reproduction that is unlike any plants or animals now known as natural. Xenobots are computer-designed creatures that assemble single cells within a Pac-Man-shaped “mouth”—and then produce Xenobot “babies” which appear and act like themselves.

About the research

Scientists who invented the world’s first living robot, Xenobots, reportedly discovered a means to effectively manufacture the bots so that they may reproduce themselves. The University of Vermont (UVM) has uncovered a novel type of replication in computer-designed organisms (CDOs) that they would have previously produced. These robots swallow single-cell organisms and release “babies” that appear and behave like them in this new type of reproduction.

An artificial-intelligence-generated Pac-Man shaped parent xenobot scoops up a sphere of stem cells.
Credit: Sam Kriegman and Douglas Blackiston.

The Xenobots are made out of stem cells from the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis, which contain microscopic hairs known as cilia that allow them to navigate around in a laboratory dish. The researchers put dye particles and silicone-coated iron beads inside the petri dish and watched the small Xenobots move around, seeing that they were accumulating up detritus. Xenobots can be compared to bulldozers which roam around it and pile up stem cells.

This suggested that the piles were “offspring” of the stem cells, with their cilia and ability to function independently. When there are enough stem cells inside a pile, they would begin to grow and condense into a spherical. They’ll develop cilia, which will let them move and, in certain circumstances, create other heaps, which will become their progeny. The reproduction was going “spontaneously” at first, but researchers employed artificial intelligence to find out the optimal form for the Xenobots to multiply in to have greater control. As a result, they created a computer model which thus replicates stem cells and anything else within the computer.

As Pac-man-shaped xenobot “parents” move around their environment, they collect loose stem cells in their “mouths” that, over time, aggregate to create “offspring” xenobots that develop to look just like their creators. 
(Image credit: Doug Blackiston and Sam Kriegman)

They determined that a “Pac-Man” design had the best results in terms of ensuring the Xenobots’ ability to manufacture more, so they modified the shape of the original Xenobots to be more practical. That design turns out to be at least 3 times stronger than the natural condition. As a result, they had offspring who gave birth to grandkids, great-grandchildren, as well as great-great-grandchildren. So far, the ‘Pac-Man’ design has been replicated four times.

Scientists can trigger new sensors as well as motors on such cells after constructing them, as well as generate them quicker. These robots, like every living cells, encounter a stumbling hurdle when they die. The cells within the 0.7-mm creatures began to die some few days after they had been produced, eventually leading to their death.

After months of research, the supercomputer did come up with an obvious idea: Pac-Man. Billions of forms were evaluated to find what might help these bots to reproduce, and after months of study, the supercomputer did come up with such an obvious idea: Pac-Man. As a result, scientists created ‘parent’ xenobots in the form of Pac-Man. These bots then can swim out to single cells in a petri dish and collect hundreds of them at once. After several days in the Pac-Man-like mouths of the parent xenobots, some cells changed into new “baby xenobots” that darted and behaved much like parents.

Wrapping up

Xenobots are a strange hybrid of organic beings and machines. Since they are formed up of stem cells and therefore can reproduce, they are considered organisms. They are robots, though, since they can move independently and undertake physical labor. Most creatures in nature replicate either by mating as well as generating offspring or cloning themselves. However, a new mechanism of propagation has emerged: living robots that could self-replicate by grouping cells and producing offshoots.

Biologists as well as roboticists believe that the experiment will reveal why certain creatures can regenerate damaged parts while others can’t, such as why humans can recover sections of their liver whereas salamanders could regenerate full limbs. The Xenobots’ next phase is to equip them with sense organs, for example.

References :

C. P. J. Maury, Amyloid and the origin of life: Self-replicating catalytic amyloids as prebiotic informational and protometabolic entities. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. 75, 1499–1507 (2018).

S. J. Park et al., Phototactic guidance of a tissue-engineered soft-robotic ray. Science 353, 158–162 (2016).

L. Ricotti et al., Biohybrid actuators for robotics: A review of devices actuated by living cells. Sci. Robot. 2, eaaq0495 (2017).

W. Gao, H. Ota, D. Kiriya, K. Takei, A. Javey, Flexible electronics toward wearable sensing. Acc. Chem. Res. 52, 523–533 (2019).

S. Griffith, D. Goldwater, J. M. Jacobson, Robotics: Self-replication from random parts. Nature 437, 636 (2005).


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