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Cell engineering: The power of xenobots

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

By Rafael Pérez Vicente
January 7, 2022

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

After nearly two years from the publication of the Xenobots construction by the University of Vermont and Tufts University; scientists have made another breakthrough regarding the topic. According to an article published by Tufts University on November 29th from 2021, researchers have developed a new version of these biological robots capable of self-replicating in a way that has never been seen before in nature, and having the ability of self reparation and emergent conducts attributed to their cellular complexity. These one-millimetre-sized entities have shown the ability to perform simple tasks such as gathering proteins, cells, or other molecular structures inside their environment. However, in order to understand the level of this invention, it is necessary to learn the basics about these engineered biological structures.

The Xenobots receive their name thanks to the organism that was used to perform the experiments: An African frog scientifically known as Xenopus Laevis. This frog was specifically used due to the size of its embryos, which allowed scientists to manipulate them to separate stem cells of cardiac and skin tissue for engineering purposes. After a wide extent of artificial intelligence and evolutionary algorithms, scientists were able to determine the best structure to give to the biological entity based on the task that they wanted it to perform, in this case, locomotion. After this was done, rigorous and extensive microsurgery on the embryos to remove the cells and use them was what followed. Until the Xenobots were finally functional, performing their tasks for a period of 7 to 10 days before degradation. It is important to note that even though the Xenobots have shown some type of emergent conduct, they are not nearly conscious or even alive. Rather, their ability to move is given by the spontaneous contraction of cardiac cells implanted in the biobot that allows its motion.

However, these tiny biological functional bots have come a great way since their first performance in January 2020, as it has been established by researchers that they now can self replicate using kinematic reproduction.

[Photo Credit: G1]

The Xenobots gather stem cells from their environment (Given by the researchers) and they are able to “create” new Xenobots for the next generation, assembling them as if building a Lego. Moreover, it has been shown how these tiny structures capable of performing simple tasks are now working together to accomplish more complex objectives given by their “programming”. And they´ve shown an ability to self-repair after they´ve received some damage. As you may be thinking right now, their application is insurmountable, scientists have been talking about possibilities of adapting them in medicine. Where, building robots from one´s own tissue would allow them to be undetected inside the human body while also performing tasks such as providing medicine, removing tumours or detecting abnormalities. However, these applications and any risks associated with the formation of Xenorobots are well far from the present, since researchers still have a long way to go until anything like that may happen. Nevertheless, researchers have claimed that their next target for the Xenobots is developing sensory-like structures within their structure to improve their capabilities and applications.


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