World's First Living Robots Can Now Reproduce


Photo: Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman

A team of scientists announced that the living robots they created in 2020 are able to reproduce. The tiny robots, known as xenobots, were created using stem cells from an African clawed frog and are capable of moving, working together in groups, and self-healing.

Now, the researchers say the Pac-Man-shaped robots, which are less than a millimeter wide, are reproducing in a way never before seen in plants or animals.

"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," said the study's co-author Douglas Blackiston, Ph.D., the senior scientist at Tufts University and the Wyss Institute.

The organic robots reproduce by collecting hundreds of stem cells in their mouths, where they incubate for several days before emerging as a brand new xenobot.

While there are currently no known applications for the reproducing robots, scientists hope one day the technology can be used for a host of tasks, including removing microplastics from the oceans or helping to heal traumatic injuries.

"If we knew how to tell collections of cells to do what we wanted them to do, ultimately, that's regenerative medicine—that's the solution to traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer, and aging," Michael Levin, Ph.D., a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University and co-leader of the new research, said in a press release. "All of these different problems are here because we don't know how to predict and control what groups of cells are going to build. Xenobots are a new platform for teaching us."


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