|The "living robots" are created from living cells / Photo Credit: Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz (via Shutterstock)|
Scientists created what they claim to be the first “living robots”— entirely new life forms born from living cells, reported Andrew Griffin of The Independent, a British online newspaper. A team of researchers took cells from frog embryos and turned them into a machine that can be programmed to do as they wish. This is the first time humanity has created “completely biological machines from the ground up,” the researchers wrote in their paper. The “living robots” could allow them to deploy tiny “xenobots” to transport medicine from a patient’s body or clean up polluted oceans. The robots can heal themselves if damaged.
Joshua Bongard, the University of Vermont expert who co-led the new research, said, “These are novel living machines. They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.” The robotic creatures were designed using a supercomputer. The supercomputer created thousands of possible designs for the new life-forms. It managed to do so through a virtual version of evolution. Scientists assigned a task to the computer and it calculated a design that “might work best.”
The life-forms were then built by a microsurgeon and other researchers by extracting stem cells from the embryos of African frogs. The cells were incubated and then used incredibly tiny tools to cut them, assembling them into the design the computer created.
“We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do” such as looking out for nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, and traveling in arteries to remove plaque, explained co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University. The researchers published their breakthrough in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Humanity has been changing the way organisms work to a certain extent. In recent years, there have been major leaps in that discipline thanks to genetic editing and the creation of artificial organisms. Levin said in a statement, “If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules.”