US scientists create world’s first-ever living robots – and they’re now able to self-replicate

While self-replicating biotechnology may spark concern, the researchers said that ‘the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished’, are biodegradable, and ‘regulated by ethics experts’, CNN reported. — Technology vector created by freepik -

In 2020, US scientists created the first living robots, called xenobots. Now researchers have discovered a new form of biological reproduction – xenobots can self-replicate – in a way that is unlike anything seen in plants or animals, reports say.

According to a news release by Wyss Institute, scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have discovered “an entirely new form of biological reproduction”. Applying this discovery, they’ve created the “first-ever, self-replicating living robots”. The results of the new research were published Nov 29, 2021, in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

The press release cited Douglas Blackiston, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Tufts University and the Wyss Institute who worked on the study, who said: “People have thought for quite a long time that we’ve worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate. But this is something that’s never been observed before.”

A report by The Hill explained that xenobots, which are formed from heart and skin stem cells belonging to the African clawed frog, were first introduced in 2020 when researchers noticed that they could move about for about a week, “before running out of energy,” could self-heal, and break down naturally.

Xenobots are tiny blobs less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide, CNN reports.

CNN cited Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, who said: “Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people.”

Bongard added, “In that way it’s a robot but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell.”

A report by HITC described it this way, from a video from Vermont University: Xenobots are “computer-designed organisms that gather single cells inside a Pac-Man-shaped ‘mouth’ – and release Xenobot ‘babies’ that look and move like themselves”.

A report by SciTechDaily noted that the discovery may for some people be extremely exciting, while others may react “with concern, or even terror”, to the notion of “a self-replicating biotechnology”. However, the goal of the team of scientists who made the discovery is for “deeper understanding”.

“We are working to understand this property: replication. The world and technologies are rapidly changing. It’s important, for society as a whole, that we study and understand how this works,” says Bongard.

The xenobots currently have no practical applications and are considered “very early technology – think of a 1940s computer”, CNN reported. However, this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence has the potential to be used in a myriad of tasks in both “the body and the environment”, according to the researchers.

While self-replicating biotechnology may spark concern, the researchers said that “the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished”, are biodegradable, and “regulated by ethics experts”, CNN reported. – News Service

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