Robots or organisms? The first live machines are created in the US
The American scientists who created the first living robots say that life forms, known as xenobots, can now be reproduced - and in a way not seen in plants and animals.
Formed from the stem cells of the African claw frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter (0.04 inch) wide. Small blocks were first discovered in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups, and self-heal.
Now, the scientists who created them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University said they have discovered a completely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science. .
"I was amazed by this," said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Detection Center at Tufts University, who co-authored the new research.
"Frogs have a way of reproducing that they use normally, but when you ... free (the cells) from the rest of the embryo and give them a chance to understand how to be in a new environment, not only do they understand they discover a new way to move, but they also find a new way to reproduce, "he added.
Stem cells are non-specialized cells that have the ability to grow into different types of cells. To make the xenobots, the researchers scratched the living stem cells from the frog embryos and left them to incubate. There is no gene manipulation.
"Most people think of robots as created from metals and ceramics, but it's not so much about what a robot has become, but what it does, which acts on its own behalf," said Josh Bongard, a professor of computer science and robotics, expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.
"In this way, it is a robot, but it is also clearly an organism made from genetically modified frog cells," Bongard added.
Bongard said they discovered that xenobots, which were originally spherical in shape and made up of about 3,000 cells, could multiply. But this happened rarely and only in specific circumstances. Xenobots used "kinetic replication," a process known to occur at the molecular level but has never been observed before at the scale of cells or entire organisms, Bongard said.
With the help of artificial intelligence, the researchers then tested billions of body shapes to make xenobots more effective in this type of repetition. The supercomputer came out with a C-shape resembling Pac-Man, a 1980s video game. They discovered that it was able to find small stem cells in a Petri dish, collect hundreds of them inside its mouth, and some days later the cell bundle turned into young xenobots.
"Inteligjenca artificiale nuk i programoi këto makina në mënyrën se si ne zakonisht mendojmë për shkrimin e kodit. Ajo formësoi dhe skaliti dhe krijoi këtë formë Pac-Man. Forma është, në thelb, programi. Forma ndikon në mënyrën se si ksenobotët sillen për të përforcuar këtë proces tepër befasues", tha Bongard.
Ksenobotët janë teknologji shumë të hershme, mendoni për një kompjuter të viteve 1940, dhe nuk kanë ende ndonjë aplikim praktik. Megjithatë, ky kombinim i biologjisë molekulare dhe inteligjencës artificiale mund të përdoret potencialisht në një mori detyrash në trup dhe mjedis, sipas studiuesve. Kjo mund të përfshijë gjëra të tilla si mbledhja e mikroplastikës në oqeane, inspektimi i sistemeve të rrënjëve dhe mjekësia rigjeneruese.
While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology may cause concern, the researchers said the living mechanisms were completely embedded in a laboratory and easily extinguished, as they are biodegradable and regulated by ethics experts.
The research was partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a federal agency that oversees the development of technology for military use.
"There are many things that are possible if we take advantage of this kind of plasticity and the ability of cells to solve problems," Bongard said.