Xenobots– The living robots

Everything you should know about xenobot:

These micro-machines are in fact brand new programmable lifeforms that researchers believe could help clean microplastics from our oceans or even repair organs inside our bodies.

So what exactly are these little things??
These little things are nothing but mixture of a cardiac cell and a normal cell, which can move by itself.

These small biological robots are less than a millimeter wide, these xenobots were created by researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University.

How these xenobots were created:

By Using stem cells harvested from the embryos of the African Clawed frog and a sophisticated computer algorithm, they generated a blueprint design that allowed the team to then build a new form of life, that has never existed before.

Stem cells were first differentiated into skin and heart cells. The skin cells were chosen for their capability to bond together to form the passive architecture of the xenobot.

while heart cells were selected for their ability to contract and relax, with the goal of manufacturing a type of tiny engine that would propel the xenobots.

After observing the natural dynamics between the skin and heart cells, the data was fed into an evolutionary algorithm run on a supercomputer.

Based on this data, the algorithm was able to generate millions of different cell configurations to test for a desired outcome.

In this case, locomotion. And so began the test for survival. Only the fittest configurations advanced to the next stage, where their designs were then crafted into better digital models.

After about a 100 test runs, only the very best configurations were left. Thanks to the power of their evolutionary algorithm,the team finally had a winning blueprint for their new life forms; all they had to now was create them. Sounds simple? Well, it wasn't.

The team used tiny forceps and a microscope to painstakingly perform microsurgery on heart and skin cells to create their novel organisms. And voilà! The researchers created their first xenobots.

Applications of these xenobots:

The biobots could propel themselves, moving in straight lines or in circles. These could help them to work together, herding loose particles into tiny heaps. And when cut open, the xenobots healed themselves!

If scaled up, xenobots could be used for regenerative medicine like repairing organs or growing body parts for transplant from the ground up.

They could be created using a patient’s own cells, then inserted into their bloodstream and programmed to clear the plaque from clogged arteries or to detect cancer.

But the applications aren’t just limited to the medical field.

The team also envisions assigning individual tasks to a swarm of xenobots to collect microplastics from the ocean or search and collect radioactive contaminants.

Now, a world full of custom planet-saving xenobots sounds really cool. But the ethical society doesn't allow us for creating a totally new form of life.

The team has fully acknowledged that future iterations of xenobots could include nervous systems, blood vessels, or even reproductive parts.

And it’s these additions that are prompting many to wonder if xenobots should be considered more than just machines.

Ethical issues related to xenobots:

There’s also the tiny fact that the research is partially sponsored by DARPA’s lifelong learning machines program.

Which again, has left some observers questioning the future direction of this research.

However, the research team is open and encouraging of these ethical discussions in the public domain in the hope that policymakers can keep up and implement the right regulations.

Right now, the xenobots are still really basic, and currently restricted in their reproductive abilities.

And in terms of scalability, as we’ve just learned, these bots aren’t exactly easy to create, requiring hours of microsurgery just to create one.

The next phase of the research is to develop a xenobot capable of carrying a payload

By using a patient’s cells to deliver medications deep within the human body but without eliciting an immune response.


So ultimately, these xenobots are just the first steps in trying to understand how life starts.

Understanding exactly how cells do this is ultimately the goal behind this research. Cells are incredibly intelligent and there are so still many things that we don’t know about how they work, like how do they communicate to build complex bodies or even heal?

If we could decode those signals, scientists could build smarter robots with pre-programmed tasks that would be biodegradable and biocompatible.

And these little xenobots are just the first step in figuring out how to control anatomy on demand. Perhaps one day providing scientists with the ability to control exactly how life forms.

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