By Victor Omondi
Scientists have invented the first ever living robots. The robotic devices are made from the embryonic skin and heart cells of frogs. They’re known as Xenobots, getting their name from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, whose stem cells are used to make the robots. This species of frogs is found in the streams and ponds of sub-Saharan Africa, where they search for food. The frogs are renowned for their claws that they use to tear the food they find.
Xenobots, developed by scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont, are the first-ever robots to be created entirely from living material. The machines are tiny creatures, less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide, and can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups. They, however, can’t evolve or recreate. What’s unique about these creatures is that they can heal by themselves when wounded.
Xenobots are devised on a supercomputer running software that imitates natural selection. Algorithms are then instructed to optimize each Xenobot for a different basic function such as moving back and forth or manipulating objects like carrying a payload. The algorithm forwards the digital blueprints it believes are best suited to the task at hand. The best plans are molded with small forceps and searing irons then released into Petri dishes, where the fragments of amphibian flesh live for a week before decaying.
These robots don’t look anything like traditional robots. They don’t have robotic arms or shiny gears. However, they can achieve some things that the traditional robots can’t. For example, these robots have self-healing capability, something that traditional robots lack. Xenobots are also safer for human health and are more environmentally-friendly since they are biological machines.
According to a study conducted by the researchers, the Xenobots could potentially be used toward a host of tasks. Because of their miniature sizes, they could be used to transport medicine into the human body or instructed to scrape out plaque from human arteries. The scientists also believe that these robots can help in environmental restoration by collecting microplastics in the ocean and cleaning up radioactive waste.
Apart from these functions, Xenobots could push researchers to venture more into cell biology, with the hope of catapulting future advancements in human health.
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