Meet Xenobots: The Self-Healing Robots Made Out of Frog Cells
Tuft University has brought together artificial intelligence and molecular biology together. The product of these fields is a kind of life unique to anything seen today. Xenobots are artificially created biological organisms that can be programmed to do specific tasks.
One dark spec---a Xenobot, was pointed by Biologist Douglas Blackiston. It was only slightly wider than a human hair but could be seen jolting around under a microscope. Dr. Blackiston exclaimed, the one that caught his attention was a lighter color.
What are Xenobots?
These virtual creatures do not have any major organs, such as reproductive or digestive organs, nor do they have brains or a nervous system. The sample under observation was made up of about 2,000 living frog embryo skin cells. The larger sized organisms contained skin cells and heart muscle cells that would later begin pulsing.
The creatures are programmable organisms and whose creation was made public through a scientific paper released in January. Named after the Xenophys laevis, an African clawed frog, which is the source of all their cells, encompasses the notion that something foreign is at work.
The life of a Xenobot lasts only about seven days, munching on small yolk platelets that make up its cells that would usually drive the development of the embryo. Due to the entirety of its structure being made of living cells, it can heal itself to an extraordinary extent, even if it is cut almost cleanly in half. What it uses its short life, however, is not based on its DNA, but by its physical appearance.
These biological marvels come in different shapes and sizes designed by roboticists through computer simulations that utilize physics engines like those used in video games such as Minecraft and Fortnite.
The specimens that had fork or snow-plow like protrusions on their forward side can sweep up stray particles in the course of the night, collecting them in a single spot. Others had legs of the sort to stumble along the surface of the petri dish. Some could swim, and some could link themselves with each other.
In Vermont, Sam Kriegman, a graduate student at the University of Vermont, along with his adviser, Joshua Bongard, synthesized controlled environments where specific behaviors of the Xenobots would be rewarded.
The first was walking, where the best ones of the group were allowed to procreate to the next generation; among these, another generation followed, and so forth, all the while improving on their designs. In a different simulation, the task of carrying an object led to the evolution of donut-like bodies to take the item in.
After the day of experimentation, they were able to produce body shapes that were preprogrammed to accomplish specified tasks. The results of which were conveyed to Dr. Levin and Dr. Blackiston, who immediately started figuring out how to create cellular figurines of those designs. They coordinated the team from Tuft's University to continuously improve their experiments and models.
The team implied in their paper and press coverage at the possibilities the future could have with these fantastic creatures. Provide clean-up duty in the oceans, deliver essential medicines to distinct cells, or even administer extensive health care to our arteries.
After the course of their short lifespan, the artificial organisms would biodegrade after using up all the yolk of their cells. Though designed by engineering means, they have evolved through natural processes encouraged to a target environment.
Mr. Kriegman speculated what a robot should look like if it were to travel through our arteries, wondering if it should have several legs.
Synthetic Biologist from Boston, Christina Agapakis, stated how compelling it is even to start delving into the possibilities the future holds. She added, "Well, what if your machine was alive? And biodegradable? And programmable?."
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