Scientists Create Living Robots Out Of Frog Skin Cells
By Ernesto Cova , August 10, 2021
A team of scientists created tiny ‘living robots’ made out of frog cells that could clean toxins, provide medicine, or gather debris on oceans. These ‘Xenobots’ are the first 100% biologically engineered machines in the world, according to the team.
These ‘living machines’ aren’t regular robots nor a known animal species. Instead, they’re a sort of item, a living, and programmable organism, according to Joshua Bongard of the University of Vermont.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about these little creatures is the fact that they can heal themselves. Also, they’re entirely biodegradable and become dead skin cells after 7 days.
A Revolutionary Algorithm
Researchers used an evolutive algorithm based on Darwin’s theory to create thousands of designs for these beings. Then, by applying some basic biophysics rules, they discarded some specimens. Last, but not least, biologists brought the designs to life.
“The fundamental finding here is that when you liberate skin cells from their normal context, and you give them a chance to reimagine their multicellularity, they can build other things than what they normally build,” says Michael Levin, co-author of the study “To me, one of the most exciting things here is plasticity. This idea that even normal cells, not genetically modified, with a normal frog genome, are in fact capable of building something completely different.”
“This isn’t some sort of effect where evolution has found a new use over hundreds of thousands of years. This happens in front of your eyes within two or three days,” Levin adds.
The best part of this experiment is the fact that it’s the more ethically correct approach researchers could have. We’re not talking about living beings with neurons but about cells developed in vitro.
“The approach here is maybe ethically the least problematic because everything is in vitro, they just start with cells, they have no neurons, so it’s not an animal,” says Auke Ijspeert at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, as quoted by New Scientist. “It’s really cells that they manipulate, so I find it may be the cleanest way.”