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World’s First Living Robots can Reproduce

The US scientists who created the first living Robots say the life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce — and in a way not seen in plants and animals. Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter wide.

The tiny blobs were first unveiled in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups and self-heal. Now the scientists that developed them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said they had discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant is known to science.

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can develop into different cell types. To make the xenobots, the researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos and left them to incubate. There’s no manipulation of genes involved.Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and Robots expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study, said that most people think of Robots as made of metals and ceramics, but it’s not so much what a Robots is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people. In that way, it’s a Robots, but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cells.

Bongard said they found that the xenobots, initially sphere-shaped and made from around 3,000 cells, could replicate. But it happened rarely and only in specific circumstances. The xenobots used “kinetic replication,” a process known to occur at the molecular level but has never been observed before at the scale of whole cells or organisms.

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