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Scientists Become First In History To Create Living Robots That Can Reproduce

Stewart Perrie

| Last updated 

Scientists Become First In History To Create Living Robots That Can Reproduce

Scientists have managed to create robots that can reproduce on their own.

A team of researchers announced last year that they were going to create synthetic lifeforms made up of skin cells and heart muscle cells derived from frog embryos.

These creations were called Xenobots, which came from the scientific name for the African clawed frog: Xenopus laevis.

According to the report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the Xenobots were seen moving, pushing, or carrying objects, which could have real-world applications in cleaning up micro-plastics or in the medical field.

Credit: Dr Douglas Blackiston and Dr Sam Kriegman
Credit: Dr Douglas Blackiston and Dr Sam Kriegman

Co-author Professor Michael Levin explained how it could be the solution to 'traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer, and ageing' if they can fine tune the ability to tell the robots what to do.

But the Xenobots were also seen reproducing, and doing so in a way that scientists hadn't seen before.

"We find that synthetic multicellular assemblies can also replicate kinematically by moving and compressing dissociated cells in their environment into functional self-copies," the study said.


"This form of perpetuation, previously unseen in any organism, arises spontaneously over days rather than evolving over millennia."

Let's pause for a moment and highlight how absolutely bizarre and incredible it is that these scientists have found a new method of reproduction in the semi-natural world.

The study's coauthor, Dr Douglas Blackiston said in a press statement (via IFLScience): "People have thought for quite a long time that we've worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate.

"But this is something that's never been observed before."


Lead author Dr Sam Kriegman added: "These are frog cells replicating in a way that is very different from how frogs do it. No animal or plant known to science replicates in this way."

However, the team noticed the synthetic lifeforms would die after reproducing, which is fairly inefficient considering they can play God and technically make it better.

So, they consulted their trusty artificial intelligence supercomputer and asked it to come up with a design that would ensure it stayed alive after making self-copies.

After a few months and billions of calculations and possible designs, the supercomputer spat out a blueprint that the Xenobots could be made from and it was something similar to Pac-Man.


Dr Kriegman said: "It's very non-intuitive. It looks very simple, but it's not something a human engineer would come up with. We sent the results to Doug and he built these Pac-Man-shaped parent Xenobots.

"Then those parents built children, who built grandchildren, who built great-grandchildren, who built great-great-grandchildren."

The team insist that they have control over the self-replicating biotechnology and they are contained in the lab for now.

They have been vetted by federal, state, and institutional ethics experts.

Featured Image Credit: Dr Douglas Blackiston and Dr Sam Kriegman

Topics: News, Technology

Stewart Perrie
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