TORONTO – Scientists in the United States have created robots that can automatically copy themselves in what they are calling a “profound” search.

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the study, Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that These computer-designed and hand-assembled creatures called “xenobots” can reproduce in a method not seen in plants and animals.

Douglas Blackiston, a co-author and a senior scientist at Tufts University, said, “People have thought for a long time that we’ve worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate, but this is something that needs to be done.” Never seen that before.” Harvard University, said in a news release.


Xenobots was first developed and reported in 2020. They are made up of about 3,000 embryonic skin cells of an African clawed frog.

The researchers found that these xenobots – when designed properly – can swim while collecting hundreds of single cells in their mouths to collect smaller versions of themselves. These tiny xenobots can grow to full size in just a few days.

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This method of reproduction is known as kinetic replication and is common in molecules, but has never been observed in cells or organisms.

“It’s profound,” said Michael Levine, study co-leader and professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University. “These cells contain the genome of a frog, but, freed from becoming a tadpole, they use their collective intelligence, a plasticity, to do something amazing.”

To discover the reproductive abilities of xenobots, researchers at the University of Vermont used a supercomputer to simulate billions of body sizes to determine what would be ideal for kinematic replication.

Months later, the computer returned a Xenobot to a shape that resembled a Pac-Man figure, with a large mouth that could be used to create other Xenobots.

“It looks very simple, but it’s not something that a human engineer would come up with,” said study lead author and post-doctoral researcher at Tufts University and Harvard University, Sam Craigman.

For those concerned about the idea of ​​self-replicating biotechnology, the researchers stress that federal, state and institutional ethics experts also approved the study. This also happens in a lab and can be easily extinguished.

“The next pandemic presents a risk, harming ecosystems from pollution,[and]accelerating the threat from climate change,” said Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont.

“It is an ideal system in which to study self-replicating systems. We have a moral imperative to understand the conditions under which we can control it, direct it, reduce it, enhance it.” “

The researchers also noted that the technology has many potential benefits for humans, including regenerative medicine, cleaning up ocean pollution, and vaccine research.