Scientists Innovate First ‘Living Robots’ Using Frog Cells

A group of US scientists has invented first-ever living machines, claiming them to be the first “living robots.” They have taken cells from African frog embryos, turning them into tiny robots that move under their stream and can be programmed to work as they wish. This is for the first time that scientists have been able to create “completely biological machines from the ground up,” the team behind the discovery write in a new paper.

The research is funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s lifelong learning machines program that aims to recreate biological learning processes in machines.

The tiny “xenobots” comprised of 500 and 1,000 cells that have been able to scoot across a petri dish, self-organize, and even transport minute payloads. According to scientists, they can also heal themselves if any damage occurs.

Joshua Bongard, the co-lead expert of the new research at the University of Vermont, said, “These are novel living machines.”

“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism,” Joshua added.

The robots are less than 1mm in size. They are reportedly designed by an "evolutionary algorithm" that runs on a supercomputer. The experts start the programme by generating random 3D configurations of 500 to 1,000 skin and heart cells.

"You look at the cells we've been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they're frogs. It's 100 percent frog DNA - but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?" said biologist Michael Levin of Tufts University.

"As we've shown, these frog cells can be coaxed to make interesting living forms that are completely different from what their default anatomy would be."

The team calls them 'living' but that may depend on how you define living creatures. Notably, these xenobots are not reproductive, unable to evolve on their own, and they are unable to multiply. Scientists think they can be useful for searching radioactive contamination, gathering plastic pollution in the oceans, and also for travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque.