Scientists from Harvard and Tufts Build Self-Reproducing Living Robots

The world of science keeps pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible. Of recent, scientists from Harvard, Tufts, and Vermont universities created the first living robots that can reproduce. This invention comes with a new pattern of self-replication.

Spontaneous kinematic self-replication

Spontaneous kinematic self-replication. Image Courtesy of

Living robots?

The scientists used Xenobots (first living robots), and noticed that they displayed a variety of self-replication modes. The cells of Xenobots are made of frog cells and they possess a Pac-Man mouth. However, when placed in a dish, these cells individually swim to find other single cells. Each cell gathers hundreds of cells into its mouth. After a few days later, they become identical new Xenobots. The new Xenobots also go through the same process repeatedly, thereby making it a cycle.

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The type of cells used for Xenobots is the embryonic cells of the Xenopus laevis frog. These cells are not multicellular; they stay on the outside of the tadpole, as they later form the frog skin. Their functions are spreading mucus and preventing pathogens from invading the tadpole. According to one of the scientists, “we are involving them in the main novel context, not just the cover page.” It is more astonishing that these cells still possess an intact frog genome but rather than creating tadpoles, did something better.

This method of self-replication has never been seen before and has astonishing features. Without intervention, the xenobot parent is made of 3,000 cells that arrange themselves as a sphere. But in this form, the cells did not replicate although they could. To solve this problem, the team instructed a supercomputer for designs that would be most effective for motion-based kinematic replication. The AI produced many designs, including the Pac-man design. These scientists adjusted the spherical parent xenobots, which successfully replicated them till their 4th or 5th generations. This means that the efficiency of this method of self-replication depends on the shape of the parent cells.

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Clinical significance

This is an opportunity for scientists to deeply understand a new replication system. This can help with a fast approach in addressing any new pandemic, threatening climate change or pollution effect, and providing new biotechnology solutions. To save the world and ecosystem from future deaths, these scientists are demanded to understand this replication system to the extent of knowing how to manipulate it with relevant speed. This understanding is for technological solutions that can be modified as more challenges come up.

Xenobot cells allow a new approach in addressing regenerative and therapeutic medicine. Aging, cancer, birth defects, injuries, etc., can be treated in a safer pattern if we can simply manipulate cells into doing what we want them to do. This would help patients with a self-healing approach.

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There are vast spaces in organisms and living systems than the ones we know. The question is always “what next?” or “what is under the surface”. The solutions to most problems are already present, we have to harness the current information, to discover others fast.


Kinematic self-replication in reconfigurable organisms




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