Robots made out of metal or plastic are a thing of the past. Nowadays, scientists created the first ”living robots“: entirely new life-forms created out of living cells. They have taken cells from frog embryos and turned them into a working machine.

So researchers dispatch the “xenobots” to transport medicine around a patient’s body or clean up pollution from the oceans. According to scientists, robots can also heal themselves if they are damaged.

The new robots can perform specialized jobs

The new robots are around 650-750 microns in diameter, but they can perform specialized jobs. For example, one of them is able to propel itself through water using two limbs. On the other hand, another xenobot has a pocket that can carry some tiny cargo.

It seems those living systems are more robust than any technology developed until now. Theoretically, the xenobots could be developed to regenerate themselves and heal when damaged, being completely biodegradable.

“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,” co-lead author Joshua Bongard said in a statement. He is a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont.

“You look at the cells we’ve been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It’s 100 percent frog DNA – but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?

We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do. Like searching out nasty compounds of radioactive contamination or gathering microplastic in the oceans. They can even travel in arteries to scrape out plaque,” added co-leader Michael Levin. He’s the one who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts.

These robots could help “crack the code” of life

So the team started producing an “evolutionary algorithm”. It stimulates the process of natural selection to create the xenobots’ design. Researchers assigned a task and let the computer collect the simulated cells in different forms until one performed the skill.

Another key point is that scientists assembled the robots by using the skin and heart muscle cells of a frog. But the research has some major implications. The creation of these xenobots could help “crack the code” of life and it also brings practical uses.

“The big question in biology is to understand the algorithms that determine form and function,” added Levin. “The genome encodes proteins, but transformative applications await our discovery. We must discover how that hardware enables cells to cooperate toward making functional anatomies under different conditions.”

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