The first "living robots", also known as xenobots (I told you about it here), created in January 2020, are now capable of something that is essential for the survival of any species: reproduction.
If you missed them, I'll tell you what it is: xenobots are organisms that, in fact, use a whole new form of biological self-replication. Observing this incredible evolution is new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Glthe study authors found that the machines can collect hundreds of single cells and assemble them into "baby" Xenobots. After a few days, little ones evolve to look and move just like their parents.
The offspring can then repeat the process over and over again.
Such a xenobot father, such a xenobot son
"People have thought for a long time that we have worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate itself," says study co-author. Douglas Blackiston, senior scientist at Tufts University, in a statement. "But this is something that has never been observed before."
The millimeter-wide Xenobots are assembled from living cells scraped from frog embryos. Confined to petri dishes, their lives are very different from those of their amphibious ancestors.
“But we are putting them in a new context. We give them the opportunity to reimagine their multicellularity ".
This face is not new to me
At present, a Xenobot can produce "babies", but the system normally dies shortly thereafter. To give these "new parents" the chance to see their "children" grow up, the researchers turned to an actor who is never lacking in narration these days. Gentlemen, artificial intelligence. Yes: The team used an evolutionary algorithm to test billions of potential body shapes in the simulation.The system was designed to find modules that would be effective for the self-replication method.
One of his most captivating creations, at least for me who are from '75 and I had my fill of Coin Up as a boy? He looked like Pac-Man. And we needed artificial intelligence, you will say. Just ask me.
The researchers then built a Xenobot with this shape and tested its ability to "raise children". They found that the AI-engineered parent could use its Pac-Man-shaped "mouth" to squeeze stem cells into circular offspring.
A whole lineage was born: the first children of xenobots built grandchildren, who built great-grandchildren, who built great-great-grandchildren.
Xenobot: what now?
In a very short time, the Xenobots were induced to work in groups, to self-heal and even to record memories, but today they can reproduce: who does not come up with apocalyptic visions of self-replicating robots?
Needless to say, the researchers are more optimistic: this could result in living machines that clean microplastics from the seas, or "living medicines" that go by themselves to where they can work the most. When we learn to guide them better we can make them our army to control and guide groups of cells: traumatic injuries, genetic defects, cancer ... aging.