Xenobots, whose creators describe them as the first “living robots,” were formed from frog stem cells. They can move independently and “live” for about a week before breaking down.
They’re not made of inorganic materials, they have no practical purpose, and they can’t be programmed. Still, their makers call them robots. “It’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people,” said Josh Bongard, the lead author of the study that named the xenobots.
Now the xernobots have stepped even further outside of the typical robot space by reproducing.
Xenobots can gather up loose stem cells and form them into blobs, just as their makers did to them. Once formed, the blobs grow into new xenobots on their own.
It’s not exactly reproduction, but it might be replication. The creators call it “kinematic replication,” and say that it is not something any plant or animal does naturally.
“Some molecules also replicate, but by moving rather than growing: They find and combine building blocks into self-copies,” they explain in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Here we show that clusters of cells, if freed from a developing organism, can similarly find and combine loose cells into clusters that look and move like they do, and that this ability does not have to be specifically evolved or introduced by genetic manipulation.”
There xenobiotps are certainly interesting. we don’t expect to see them in factories any time soon, but they are adding to the sum total of knowledge. Who knows how it will work out in the long run?
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