Germ Cells Become Living Mini-robots
Take cells from a frog. Build them together into a small living machine. The result is a tiny robot that can be used to deliver medicine to the body or clear blood vessels from plaque.
Researchers at the University of Vermont have developed a new type of living machine that can move toward a selected goal and perform simple tasks. Also, they can self-heal if injured. These little “xenobots”, which the scientists have chosen to call them, have been constructed using AI in a supercomputer and then built up of skin and heart cells from a frog.
– They are neither a traditional robot nor a known species. It’s a new kind of thing: a living, programmable organism, says Joshua Bongard, one of the lead authors of the study published in the journal PNAS.
To come up with the right form for a particular task, the computer first created thousands of new life forms. The various proposals were tested through simulations so that the most promising could be screened and improved.
These are then built and tested by biologists at Tuft University. Like building blocks, they used skin and heart stem cells from an African frog named Xenopus laevis. The skin cells functioned as skeletons and the heart cells as “motor”.
The researchers were able, among other things, to get groups of xenobots to work together to collect small objects. They also made robots with holes in the middle that could be used to transport medicine inside the body.
According to the researchers, this type of living machine should be able to get many other future uses such as collecting harmful particles in the environment or swimming through blood vessels and clearing them from plaque.