Scientists Have Created New Type of Living Organisms…
These “biological machines” could one day live inside the human body.
Scientists have created a new life form using stem cells scraped from frog embryos. Researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) and Tufts University built these, now termed “xenobots,” named after the African frog species Xenopus laevis. The xenobots are one millimeter-wide and act like living, self-healing cells, but they are technically robots.
They can walk, swim and work together! Refined, they could be used inside the human body to reprogram tumors, deliver medicine or remove plaque from arteries.
“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, computer scientist who co-led the research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
Using a supercomputer, researchers from UVM ran an evolutionary algorithm to determine the best design for this new life form. Then, the Tufts team assembled and tested the design using stem cells from the African frog.
When sliced, they are able to regenerate and bind themselves back together, something few other robots can do, and in addition to medical purposes, they could be put to use cleaning up radioactive waste or plastics.
Some people fear the idea of supercomputers designing living robots. “That fear is not unreasonable,” Levin says. “When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don’t understand, we’re going to get unintended consequences.”
However, the xenobots come pre-loaded with their own food source, and they can’t reproduce or evolve… yet!