A small group of cells shaped like Pac-Man is the world’s first self-replicating biological robot.
Small bots are made from skin cells Frog, But they do not duplicate by Mitosis Also Meiosis Or one of the other ways in which cells divide and replicate under normal circumstances. Instead, they build more from the raw material (planktonic frog skin cells), creating multiple generations of nearly identical organisms.
In reality, bots (called “xenobots” by the inventor) even look like Pac-Man. They spiral in a wild cork bottle opener, with an open “mouth” scooping up floating skin cells into piles. These ridges gradually merge into new spiral heterologous bots, as cells tend to attach or attach when they come into contact with each other.
This self-replication is a fairly delicate process, previously only possible with carefully controlled laboratory dishes, but researchers hope to offer new possibilities for biology-based robots. increase.
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Sam Kriegman, a computer scientist and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Wis Institute and Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center, said: University.
Kriegman and his colleagues, including Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist at the University of Vermont, have been developing heterogeneous bots for years. Bots are made from stem cells taken from frog eggs and are less than 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) wide. When they come in contact with each other Stem cells It naturally forms a spherical mass and is covered with small, beating cilia, or hair-like structures that can propel the mass.
“They are neither traditional robots nor known animal species,” Bongard said in a statement when the invention of the heterogeneous bot was first announced in 2020. Live science reported At the time. “This is a new class of artifact. It’s a living, programmable creature.”
Programming biology isn’t as easy as typing commands in code, but Kriegman told Live Science. “It’s hard to program something that doesn’t have software,” he said.
Ultimately, control of heterogeneous bots results in control of their shape. That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. What the xenobot does when you change the shape, or how to sculpt the shape to get the desired result, is not always intuitive. However, computer simulations can run billions of shape and size options in days or weeks. Researchers can even change the environment around simulated heterogeneous bots. You can then test promising shapes, sizes, and environments in the real world.
Biological robots are promising because they can self-repair, Kriegman said. They are also biodegradable. If you leave it to your device, the Xenobot will run out of energy and begin to deteriorate within 10-14 days. They leave no microplastics or toxic metals, only small spots of organic spoilage. Researchers are working on designs that may allow heterogeneous bots to carry small amounts of material. Potential uses include the delivery of drugs into the body and the purification of toxic chemicals in the environment.
In those typical spheres, researchers have found that heterogeneous bots are capable of limited versions of self-replication. When placed in a dish full of independently floating frog stem cells, the blobs swirl cheerfully, randomly pushing freely floating cells into the mass, some of which stick to each other to form a new heterologous bot. increase. However, they tend to be smaller than their parents and usually cannot move enough single cells to create yet another generation.
After computer simulations suggested that Pac-Man’s shape might be more effective, researchers tested these C-shaped heterologous bots in stem cell soup. They found that the diameter of the offspring of Pac-Man’s heterogeneous bot was 149% larger than that of the spherical heterogeneous bot. Thanks to the improved size, the baby Xenobot was able to produce his own offspring. Researchers have found that it is possible to reach 3-4 generations instead of 1 generation heterogeneous bot replication.
The system is still very fragile, and the process of growing cells and ensuring that their growth substrate is clean and fresh is tedious, Kriegman said. And don’t worry. There is no need to worry about these biological robots being duplicated out of control and dominating the world. “Sneezing on the plate ruins the experiment,” Kriegman said.
This also means that Xenobot is not ready to become a working robot. Researchers are working on different shape tests for different tasks. Their AI simulations also suggested that changing the shape of the laboratory dish that Xenobot replicates could lead to better results, but it still needs to be tested in the real world.
But there is a lesson from heterogeneous bots that can be quickly incorporated into robotics, Kriegman said. One is that Artificial intelligence Even self-replicating robots can be used in robot design. Second, it makes sense to create a robot from intelligent components. Organisms are smart down to their constituents, he said: organisms are made up of self-organizing cells, and self-organizing organelles are made up of self-organizing cells. protein And molecules. Today’s metal and plastic robots don’t work that way.
“If we could build a robot from intelligent modules, we might be able to build a more robust machine,” Kriegman said. “Maybe we can create a self-healing or self-replicating robot in the real world.”
Originally published on Live Science.
Pac-Man type blob becomes the world’s first self-replicating biological robot
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