It is an indisputable fact that technologies are developing really fast and soon, they will replace a big part of the traditional ways we manage to solve some problems. One of the most discussed topics is robotics and the way they developed through the time.
Scientists who are working really hard on their robots are doing their best in order to improve their products’ functions and options. Now, the first “living robots” are capable of the most essential part of any species’ survival – reproduction.
According to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, those robots are known as Xenobots, as the organisms use an entirely novel form of biological self-replication.
The authors of the study found out that the machines can gather hundreds of single cells and assemble them into “baby” Xenobots. A few days later, youngsters evolve to look and move exactly like their parents. This process can repeat over and over again.
Douglas Blackiston, who is a study co-author and a senior scientist at Tufts University revealed in a statement that for a quite long time people have thought that scientists have worked in order to find out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate, but the truth is that this was something that has never been observed before.
What are the millimeter-wide Xenobots assembled from? Well, the answer is quite simple and short – living cells scraped from frog embryos.
Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University and co-leader of the new research, said:
“They would be sitting on the outside of a tadpole, keeping out pathogens and redistributing mucus. But we’re putting them into a novel context. We’re giving them a chance to reimagine their multicellularity.”
An interesting fact is that a Xenobot can produce children, but the system normally dies soon after. With the aim to give the parents a chance to see their kids grow up, the researchers turned to AI.
An evolutionary algorithm was used by the team with the aim to test billions of potential body shapes in simulation.
The system was created and designed to find forms that would be effective for the self-replication method. One of its striking creations resembled Pac-Man.
Sam Kriegman, the lead author of the new study said:
“It’s very non-intuitive. It looks very simple, but it’s not something a human engineer would come up with. Why one tiny mouth? Why not five?”
A Xenobot was then built and its child-rearing skills were tested.
During the process of work, scientists discovered that the AI-designed parent could use its Pac-Man-shaped “mouth” in order to compress stem cells into a circular offspring.
Then, their children built grandchildren, who built great-grandchildren, who built great-great-grandchildren, and that’s how a Xenobot dynasty was taking shape.
Now, the Xenobots can not only work in groups, self-heal, and even record memories, but now they are even capable of raising a family.
Although it might seem terrifying for most people, researchers are more optimistic because they believe that their system will develop and be useful not only for the environment, but for poeples’ lives.