Summary: Researchers at the University of Vermont and the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University have essentially created new creatures from frog cells, complete with programmable behaviors.
Original author and publication date: Michael Irving – January 13, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: We are seeing evolution in front of our eyes, but we can’t still see its meaning and its future. For example, who has programmed us?
From the article:
Robots are made to mimic living creatures, and as smart as they’re becoming, we can still look at them and understand that they aren’t “living” in any real sense. But that line is now beginning to blur.
The new living robots are made of skin and heart cells taken from frog embryos, assembled into stable forms designed by a supercomputer and set loose in a Petri dish. The skin cells work to give the little critters their shape – which kind of resembles a blob with four “legs” – while the heart cells push them around with every pump.
“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, co-lead researcher on the project. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
Each measuring 1 mm (0.04 in) long, the team calls their creation “xenobots”, after the Xenopus laevis species of frog that the cells were originally taken from. Tests showed that the organisms would swim around their environment for days or weeks at a time, running on stored embryonic energy. In groups, they tended to swim in circles and could even push pellets into the center of the space.
That might not sound all that impressive, but the team says that this technique is a proof of concept for living, reprogrammable machines. They can be custom-designed to accomplish a whole range of tasks, such as cleaning up the environment or even the human body.
“We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do, like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque,” says Michael Levin, co-lead researcher on the project.