These are xenobots – the world's first "live" robots



Progress made in the world of science will probably never cease to surprise me. Not so long ago, only in 1961, robotics as a field of knowledge began to develop, and now researchers created the first robots "constructed" entirely from living cells.

Xenobots, because that is the name of the robots, it tiny clusters of 500 to 1000 cellsthat are able to move around the Petri dish, organize themselves, and even transport small loads. Their creators are scientists from the University of Tuftsa and the University of Vermont.

Researchers designed their 'live' robots with the help of a supercomputer and an algorithm that was able to connect frog cells into various configurations. Yes, the robots were created from cells taken from frog embryos (Xenopus laevis – hence the name of the robots), and more precisely – precursor epidermal cells and precursor cardiomyocytes, i.e. myocardial cells. However, before the robots actually saw the light of day, configurations designed for different purposes were tested by a supercomputer. The worst of thousands of projects were not implemented, while the best were improved and from among them several were selected that received their physical view.

As the simulations showed, the resulting robots were able to move. In fact, some of them were able to carry small objects alone (just like those in the shape of a bagel). The robots could also grouply move objects placed in Petri dishes, working together. These "machines" worked up to a week without the need to provide them with additional nutrients, and this is because of the fats and proteins in which they were equipped at the start.

xenobot 2
Source: S. Kriegman et al.

Of course although scholars call their robots "Living", look at it with a grain of salt. After all, according to the definition adopted in the world of science, real living organisms are capable of not only moving and responding to stimuli, but also of breathing, growth, excretion, reproduction and nutrition (although robots can obtain energy from nutrients, they are not able to self-sustaining food). However, it cannot be denied that the amazing fact is that scientists have managed to create moving structures, unique in the natural environment, using living cells from a living organism.

Although there is a risk that in the future the concept of xenobots could be developed by creating even a new type of biological weapon, these tiny robots also have a chance to do a lot of good. They could be used even when searching for radioactive contaminants, cleaning oceans from plastic or for removing atherosclerotic plaques from vessels. Their advantage is also that they are simply biodegradable.

Source: PNAS