The first ‘living robots’ that can REPRODUCE: Microscopic organisms made from frog cells assemble ‘babies’ in their Pac Man-shaped mouths – in breakthrough that could one day be used to destroy cancer cells 

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  • Frog stem cells, shaped using artificial intelligence, will replicate automatically
  • They collect single cells inside a Pac-Man-shaped ‘mouth’ and release ‘babies’
  • Self-replicating living bio-robots may allow for more personalized drug treatments

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In a potential breakthrough for regenerative medicine, scientists have created the first living robot that can reproduce.

The millimeter-sized living machines, called Xenobots 3.0, are neither traditional robots nor animal species, but living, programmable creatures.

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Made from frog cells, computer-designed creatures, created by an American team, assemble single cells inside a Pac-Man-shaped ‘mouth’ and release ‘babies’ that are similar to their parents. Look and walk like that.

Self-replicating living bio-robots could enable more direct, personalized drug treatments for traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer, aging and more.

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Xenobots 3.0 can collect hundreds of single cells, compress them and assemble them into free ‘babies’ from their Pac-Man-shaped mouths.

What are Xenobots?

Xenobots are neither a conventional robot nor a known species of animal, but a living, programmable organism.

They are made from adapted stem cells from Xenopus laevis, an African species of frog.

Their shape is designed by a computer to be able to be replicated over several generations.

No animal or plant known to science is imitated in this way.

Xenobots will help develop computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery.

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Xenobots are the work of biologists and computer scientists at Tufts University and the University of Vermont (UVM), who detail their creation in a new study.

Xenobots 3.0 follows the original Xenobots, which were reported as the first living robots in 2020, and Xenobots 2.0, which can propel themselves using hair-like ‘legs’ called cilia and the ability to hold memories. has capacity.

‘We found xenobots that walk. We found Xenobots that swim. And now, in this study, we have found xenobots that replicate kinematically,’ said study author Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics specialist at the University of Vermont.

‘We’ve found that this is a previously unknown space within organisms, or living systems, and it is a vast space.’

According to the team, xenobots will help develop computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery.

‘If we know how to make a collection of cells what we want them to do,’ said Michael Levine of Tufts University, ultimately, it is regenerative medicine – it is the solution to traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer and aging. Is.

‘All these different problems are here because we don’t know how to predict and control what groups of cells are going to form. Xenobots are a new platform to teach us.’

AI-designed, Pac-Man-shaped 'parent' organism (in red) next to stem cells that have been compressed into a ball - the 'offspring' (green)

AI-designed, Pac-Man-shaped ‘parent’ organism (in red) next to stem cells that have been compressed into a ball – the ‘offspring’ (green)

In 2020, scientists revealed they would hand-make original computer-designed xenobots, adapted from stem cells from Xenopus laevis, a frog species found in parts of Africa.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are specialized human cells that have the ability to develop into many different types of cells, from muscle cells to brain cells.

In some cases, they even have the ability to repair damaged tissue.

Stem cells are divided into two main forms – embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells can become all cell types in the body because they are pluripotent – ​​they can give rise to many different cell types.

Adult stem cells are found in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat but have a more limited ability to give rise to various body cells.

Meanwhile, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to be like embryonic stem cells.

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Stem cells – which can turn into any tissue or organ – were harvested from frog embryos and left to incubate.

Then, with tiny forceps and a tiny electrode, a microsurgeon cut and folded single cells under a microscope into computer-specified shapes.

Assembled into body forms never seen in nature, the cells began to work together, powered by embryonic energy stores.

At the time, he showed that the bots were programmed to perform a range of tasks, including delivering medicine directly to a point in the body.

This new generation – Xenobots 3.0 – uses stem cells from the same frog species.

Xenobots 3.0 can collect hundreds of single cells, compress them and assemble them into ‘babies’ protruding from their Pac-Man-shaped mouths.

A few days later, these ‘babies’ become the new Xenobots who look and walk just like their ‘parents’.

And then these new xenobots can go out, find cells, and make copies of themselves – and the process happens over and over again.

In the Xenopus laevis frog, these embryonic stem cells usually develop into the skin.

‘They would be sitting on the outside of the tadpoles, keeping pathogens away and redistributing the mucus,’ Levine said.

‘But we’re putting them in a novel context. We are giving them a chance to re-imagine their multicellularity.

‘These cells contain the genome of a frog, but, freed from becoming a tadpole, they use their collective intelligence, a plasticity, to do something surprising.

Close up of three young African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis).  Embryonic stem cells from this species were used to create 'xenobots'.

Close up of three young African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Embryonic stem cells from this species were used to create ‘xenobots’.

By itself, the xenobot parent, composed of some 3,000 cells, forms a sphere – but it cannot reproduce effectively over many generations.

Sam Craigman at Tufts said, ‘These can produce babies but then the system normally dies after that. ‘In fact, it is very difficult for the system to continue to reproduce.’

Therefore, the team used a computer – specifically an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm on the Deep Green supercomputer cluster…

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