Living robots are now able to reproduce, say US scientists

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The Xenobots are able to achieve reproduction and do so in a way that animals and plants do not.

The American scientists behind Xenobots, the first living robots, have announced that these synthetic life forms are now able to reproduce. Moreover, they do it in a way that is not seen in either plants or animals.

The Xenobots were created out of African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) stem cells.

The living robots are under one millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. They look like small blobs and were initially unveiled in 2020 following experiments that demonstrated that the Xenobots were able to move around, work on their own or together in groups, and heal themselves.

Recently, Tufts University, the University of Vermont, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have announced that they have discovered a whole new type of biological reproduction from the Xenobots and it isn’t like any form currently known in the animal and plant worlds.

The living robots are able to reproduce using a method that has not been seen in the natural world.

“I was astounded by it,” said biology professor Michael Levin, director of Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center and co-lead author of the newly published research in the PNAS journal. “Frogs have a way of reproducing that they normally use but when you … liberate (the cells) from the rest of the embryo and you give them a chance to figure out how to be in a new environment, not only do they figure out a new way to move, but they also figure out apparently a new way to reproduce.”

The living robots are C-shaped and collect loose stem cells, compressing them into piles able of coming together and maturing into offspring. Stem cells are unspecialized and can develop into various forms of cells. The Xenobots were made by scraping living frog embryo stem cells and leaving them to incubate. This process did not involve genetic manipulation.

“Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people,” said the study’s lead author Josh Bongard, a University of Vermont computer science professor and robotics expert. “In that way it’s a robot but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell.”

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