Scientists have created, what is now world’s first Living Robot: Xenobot
Last year, a collaboration of Computer Scientists and Biologists from Tufts University of Vermont (UVM) led to some groundbreaking discovery. They created the world’s first living Robots. These biological machines were named Xenobot. Named after the African clawed frog (Xenopus Laevis), Xenobots were first created from frog’s skin and cardiac cells. These creatures are often tiny in size (less than 1mm) and possess characteristics like self-healing and the ability to move around. Additionally Xenobots are quite capable of performing tasks like pushing payloads and working in a collective behavior in the presence of other xenobots.
Early generation Xenobots, were millimeter sized with their construction made by the manual placement of tissues and surgically shaped frog skin and cardiac muscles. The cardiac muscle is what allowed a Xenobot to move around in the surface. The creature could live without food for weeks, as it lacks any digestive system. The average lifespan for the early models were anywhere between one and a half to two weeks. But if the extraction of components is done from a living being, how come this organism be classified as a robot? Well because unlike other living bodies which evolve around naturally in our environment, a Xenobot was first created in a computer lab. Virtual simulation is where the first Xenobots were created, as a study material of understanding how individual cells manage to form whole living beings, ever so perfectly.
Xenobots are proven to carry payloads, which are helping to aggregate debris along the surface it lives on. And its collective working in swarms of other xenobots, implies to its potential use-case of aggregating micro plastics and hazards from oceans in the future.
Xenobot 2.0 is an major update of the previous gen model of xenobots, produced by the same team. The 2.0 is a more formidable robot, than its predecessor. This one can self-assemble from single cells, self-replicate, would not require muscle cells for locomotion and even has a recordable memory, an essential feature for robots. For locomotion, these living robots have been known to grow patches of cilia (locomotive organelles), which help it in swimming. Much stronger than its predecessor, the Xenobot 2.0 moves faster, has a longer lifespan, while still having the ability to self heal and work together in groups.
Researchers were amazed to find out that xenobots can actually go under a form of self-replication. The likes of which, never seen in any living plants and animals. Offsprings are formed by the sweeping up of loose cells and swashing them back into more clusters (Xenobots). Unlike plants and animals which undergo reproduction from either asexual or sexual processes, Xenobots undergo a very different type of mechanism, known as Kinematic self-replication. The fascinating stuff about the kinematic replication is that, it has only been seen for molecules till date. No form of living organism has yet to show kinematic self-replication. Scientist believe that, this form of replication was pretty important at the start of life on earth. Thus, researchers are particularly optimistic, as the whole process might cast light on the origin of life.
Conditions and Limitations
Researchers have found that the cells need to be sticky, to form a moving cluster or a child xenobot. But there resides certain limitations to self-replication of these living robots. Xenobots are only capable of replicating once, throughout their lifespan. The reason being, the size and the strength of the Offsprings. Basically they are too small and weak, to self-replicate across generations. But with the help of A.I, researchers have found that if these xenobots are formed into certain shapes, replication across generations might become a possibility.
Researchers are hopeful, that xenobots self replicating property could pave the way for technology of self replicating machines. Long term implications, evolution of bio-bots made from our own cells. Bio-bots could effectively remove the need for surgery.
Memory Recording remains to be one of the essential features of Robotics. The sheer ability to record memories allow robots to modify their action and behavior with time. As a result Xenobot 2.0, specifically engineered with read/write capability of recording one bit of information. The Tufts team took the help of a fluorescent reporter protein called EosFP, to achieve this feat. The protein in general is green in colour. But when exposed to lights of 390nm of wavelength, the colour changes to red.
Researchers firstly injected messenger RNA coding for the EosFP protein in the cells of the frog embryo. Next was the extraction of stem cells from the embryo, to create the xenobots. The installation of EosFP protein, meant that the now mature xenobots would have a built-in fluorescent switch, capable of recording exposure to lights above 390nm within them.
Researchers took the experiment with 10 xenobots, which would swim around in a surface. The surface however had a specialized setting, in which a particular spot, illuminated with 390nm of light. After two hours, the team found that out of ten, three bots emitted red light. The rest emitted green light, effectively showcasing their travel records. Memory recording in xenobots are an essential feature, which has a lot of potential for future diagnosis. Some diagnostic applications might be to look for Radioactive contamination, drugs, disease conditions and chemical pollutants. Further engineering of the memory function could enable the recording of more bits of information, or allow the bots to release compounds or change behaviour upon sensation of stimuli.
All in all, the future of artificial life and what it could possibly bring to the table looks promising. The amazing blend of A.I and Biology, a Xenobot is sure to lead to some astounding and groundbreaking possibilities in the future.
The Principal author of the blog Just Logically Speaking, Susanta Ray is an enthusiast for information and learning. He thrives in subjects related to Modern Technology, Science, History, Space, Finance and Global Affairs.
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