When we talk about it robot The first images that come to mind are metal and plastic machines very similar to the ones we see in films like “I robot“Or”RoboCop“, for example.
However, technological advances in recent years have resulted in scientists not only making, but also using, inorganic machines (made of metal and plastic) Organic material, like stem cells, create biological machinesnamely. living bots.
An example of this are the “Xenobots“, something tiny robots made in 2020 by a group of scientists from the Tufts University and from the University of Vermont from living cells of an African clawed frog named “Xenopus laevis”.
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“These are novel living machines. They are not a traditional robot or a well-known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living and programmable organism, ”he says. Joshua Bongard, an expert in computer science and robotics from the University of Vermont (UVM) and one of the leaders of the find.
As the scientist explains These living bots don’t look like traditional robots– They don’t have shiny gears or robotic arms. They look more like one small lump of pink meat in motionA biological machine that researchers say can do things that conventional robots can’t.
The Xenobots They are synthetic organisms that are automatically engineered by a supercomputer to perform a specific task using a trial and error process (an evolutionary algorithm). They are made up of a combination of different biological tissues.
These They are only 1 mm wide And you are consisting of skin cells and heart muscle cellsderived from stem cells collected in embryos of the species. “Xenopus laevis‘. It is the skin cells that provide rigid support, while the heart cells act as small motors, the volume of which contracts and expands to power the bots. Forward.
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These machines are designed to walk, swim, push, carry payloads, work in groups, and even heal themselves after injuries.
Recently The same group of scientists has introduced a new generation of it living bots. The Xenobots 2.0as they are called They are an improved version of Xenobots 1.0.
Like their predecessors, the new living robots can work together in groups and heal themselves. What’s new in this new generation is that bots are able to close most of a serious, long, half-thickness injury within five minutes of an injury. On the other hand, the new one Xenobots are faster, navigate different environments and live longer than their predecessors. But the good news is that they can Record information about your surroundings, that shows your writable storage capacity.
“In a way, Xenobots are built like a traditional robot. We only use cells and tissues instead of artificial components to build shape and create predictable behavior. From a biological point of view, this approach helps us understand how cells communicate with one another during development, while they interact with one another, and how we can better control these interactions, ”he explains. Doug Blackiston, Co-author of the study.
The robotics expert for his part Josh Bongradaffirms that with these advances “aim at a new kind of living tool.“”
According to scientists, Xenobots could in the future be used to dispose of radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the oceans, transport drugs into the human body, or even travel to our arteries to scrape off plaque.
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And it is one of the most outstanding features of this Bots is that they can survive for days or weeks in watery environments without additional nutrients, which makes them suitable internal drug administration.
In addition to the above tasks, Xenobots could help researchers learn more about it Cell biology, Open the doors to promote human health and longevity.
The teacher for his part Michael LevinIn addition to highlighting the potential of Xenobots to perform useful tasks in the environment or possibly in therapeutic applications, it is emphasized that “very valuable benefits“In this research: Using robots to understand how individual cells come together, communicate, and specialize to create a larger organism, as they do in nature to create a frog or a human.”It is a model system that can provide a basis for this Regenerative Medicine“It says.
Another benefit of biological robots, Levin adds, is that metabolism. Unlike metal and plastic robots, the cells of a biological robot can absorb and break down chemicals and function like small factories that synthesize and excrete chemicals and proteins. All the Field of synthetic biologythat focused primarily on reprogramming unicellular organisms to make useful molecules can now be used in these multicellular creatures.
Although scientists claim that there is still much to study and discover, Xenobots could become a very useful tool for making important advances in various areas.