U.S. scientists revealed that they have developed the first-ever self-duplicating “robot” originated from living cells.

These “xenobots” look similar to Pac-Man, a video game character, Sciencealert reported.

Origin of the “xenobots”

Computer scientist and roboticist Joshua Bongard from the University of Vermont said that xenobots could not be classified as traditional robots or other animal-known species, but they appear as a new class of artifacts.

Scientists have developed these unusual robotic creatures based on their research results delivered last year in a presentation about the world’s first robots constructed entirely out of living cells. 

The stem cells, in that case, came from embryonic frogs which Bongard referred to as “a living, programmable organism,” according to Sciencealert.

“Xenobots” offsprings

Currently, Bongard and his partners have been working on further research, providing the xenobots with the capacities of self-duplication and spawn.

The scientists did not apply reproduction techniques typically used in biological life-forms to reach self-duplication. Instead, they learned that if enough xenobots are put at a close distance in a petri dish, these xenobots will start their collective process by stacking up other loose frog cells floating alongside in the solution.

Each of around 50 cells pile becomes the xenobot organism’s so-called offspring with the capability of swimming, and making it possible create its own offspring.

Molecular machines and models also generate offspring in a similar manner, this is known as spontaneous kinematic self-replication.

However, living multicellular systems, like xenobots, have never experienced this phenomenon before.

“This form of perpetuation, previously unseen in any organism, arises spontaneously over days rather than evolving over millennia,” the researchers said.

Joshua Bongard- Computer scientist and roboticist from the University of Vermont. (ScienceAlert/Screenshot via TheBL/YouTube)

How to create self-replicating robots

To create self-duplication robots, researchers extracted pluripotent stem cells from African clawed frog embryo skins before incubating them in a saline solution. Meantime, several cells would adhere into a spheroid organism, growing cilia on its outer layer, allowing it to move around. 

When a second dish contained both a dozen first-generation organisms and dissociated stem cells, the organisms moved to collect the stem cells, staking into piles, forming a new generation of organisms. The exact process kept repeating to build cell heaps. 

However, the dissociated stem cells left alone in solution could not self-gather, which means it requires the ancestor xenobots’ movement to activate their building into collective organisms. 

According to the researchers, kinematic self-replication has exhibited the radical capabilities of biological entities in adapting and changing responding to their environment without genetic modification. 

Amplification of the “xenobots” phenomenon

The researchers also figured out that, with the help of artificial intelligence, xenobots could be replicated by imitating the conditions.

Eventually, the semi torus shape, Pac-Man in 3D, appeared as the best tool for building up new organisms by collecting loose frog cells and establishing walls limiting the xenobots’ movement.

Prospect of “xenobots”

Although the researchers are just in the first phase of simulating these living robot creatures, they believe that the unusual organisms can someday make history if they continue searching for their function and delegating suitable tasks. 

“This suggests that future technologies may, with little outside guidance, become more useful as they spread, and that life harbors surprising behaviors just below the surface, waiting to be uncovered,” the team explained.

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