Scientists create first living robots using cells from African clawed frogs

Scientists have created what they claim are the world's first "living robots" using cells from African clawed frogs.

Researchers took cells from frog embryos and transformed them into a machine that can be programmed to work as instructed.

The US-based scientists say it is the first time that humans have effectively created "completely biological machines from the ground up".

“These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth,” said Michael Levin, the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

"They are living, programmable organisms.”

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The new creatures – which move around using their own steam – were designed using supercomputers then built by biologists.

One of the robots has two stumpy legs that enable it to move along using its chest.

A second has a cavity in the middle that acts as a pouch and can be used to transfer miniature payloads.

Researchers hope to develop the robots to the point where they are capable of dispatching tiny “xenobots” to transport medicine around a patient’s body or clean up pollution from the oceans, for example.

“We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque,” said co-leader Michael Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University, where the xenobots were actually created.

They are also capable of repairing themselves when damaged, the scientists wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, the University of Vermont expert who co-led the new research.

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

For decades, humanity has been altering the way organisms work, and in recent years have made huge leaps forward with the introduction of gene editing and the creation of artificial organisms.

The researchers, however, say that their work is the first time that a completely biological machine has been entirely designed and created by scientists.

At less than 1mm long, the robots were designed using an "evolutionary algorithm" that was then run through the supercomputer.

The supercomputers then start by generating random 3D configurations of 500 to 1,000 heart and skill cells.

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Each of the configurations is then tested in a virtual setting to see how far it can potentially move when the heart cells are beating.

Researchers then took the best performers to create more designs that were then subsequently tested.

Because heart cells spontaneously contract and relax, they behave like miniature engines that drive the robots along until their energy reserves run out.

“If humanity is going to survive into the future, we need to better understand how complex properties, somehow, emerge from simple rules,” said Mr Levin n a statement.

“This study is a direct contribution to getting a handle on what people are afraid of, which is unintended consequences,” he added.

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