Researchers play God and create the first living, #AI designed #Xenobots that can self-replicate.

Scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction—and applied their discovery to create the first-ever, self-replicating living robots.
The same team that built the first living robots (“Xenobots,” assembled from frog cells (https://www.uvm.edu/news/story/team-builds-first-living-robots)—reported in 2020) has discovered that these computer-designed and hand-assembled organisms can swim out into their tiny dish, find single cells, gather hundreds of them together, and assemble “baby” Xenobots inside their Pac-Man-shaped “mouth”—that, a few days later, become new Xenobots that look and move just like themselves.
And then these new Xenobots can go out, find cells, and build copies of themselves. Again and again.
“With the right design—they will spontaneously self-replicate,” says Joshua Bongard, Ph.D., a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research.
The results of the new research were published November 29, 2021, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (https://www.pnas.org/content/118/49/e2112672118).
Bongard points to the COVID epidemic and the hunt for a vaccine. “The speed at which we can produce solutions matters deeply. If we can develop technologies, learning from Xenobots, where we can quickly tell the AI: ‘We need a biological tool that does X and Y and suppresses Z,’ —that could be very beneficial. Today, that takes an exceedingly long time.”
The team aims to accelerate how quickly people can go from identifying a problem to generating solutions—”like deploying living machines to pull microplastics out of waterways or build new medicines,” Bongard says.
“We need to create technological solutions that grow at the same rate as the challenges we face,” Bongard says.
And the team sees promise in the research for advancements toward regenerative medicine. “If we knew how to tell collections of cells to do what we wanted them to do, ultimately, that’s regenerative medicine—that’s the solution to traumatic injury, birth defects, cancer, and aging,” says Levin. “All of these different problems are here because we don’t know how to predict and control what groups of cells are going to build. Xenobots are a new platform for teaching us.”

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