Researchers use AI to create self-replicating Xenobots

in STEMGeeks2 months ago

We are again a step closer to what we currently call Science Fiction.
Tiny robots that heal and reproduce themselves are now a reality.
With the help of artificial intelligence, researchers succeed in creating self-replicating biorobots.
These so called Xenobots are sort of reminiscent of Pac-Man...

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What Exactly Happened?

Ever since science fiction planted the idea of ​​self-replicating robots in our brains, people are fascinated by it.
Scientists have now taken a big step on this path. They created the Xenobots, completely biological robots made from frog stem cells that, thanks to AI-determined shaping, are able to reproduce themselves under certain conditions.
Also, the Xenobots can work together and heal if part of the body is removed.

Although the biorobots are still at the very beginning of their development, researchers are already recognizing a wide range of future fields of application for the tiny creatures.
From medical use in the human body to the removal of radioactive waste or cleaning the oceans of all sorts of contamination - the Xenobots could apply as ambassadors for Utopia.

Worryingly, however, is the fact that they are partially funded by the research division of the US Department of Defense - what could possibly go wrong?!


How Does All This Work?

Xenobots were developed entirely biologically and without genetic manipulation, as reported by CNN.
Researchers at the US Universities of Vermont and Harvard took stem cells from the clawed frog (scientific name: "Xenopus laevis", if you are curious) and let them grow. Originally, tiny, round-shaped organisms emerged from this.

At first, the less than a millimeter large blobs seemed to float aimlessly around in Petri dishes. The researchers added stem cells, (non-specialized, biological building blocks that can develop into all possible cell types).
Then the researchers observed the unbelievable: Occasionally the Xenobots formed tiny clusters of cells from which new Xenobots developed.
But this process was very rare.

So, using artificial intelligence, the researchers calculated the ideal shape so that the Xenobots could reproduce more efficiently.
The result was a C-shape that is reminiscent of the classic video game character Pac-Man. Now the researchers used scissors and tweezers and shaped the Xenobots like tiny Pac-Mans to optimize reproduction.

With success: As the researchers noted in their study, which has been published and checked by experts, the Xenobots now reproduce themselves much more efficiently.

You can see them in action here:

The study with the exciting title "Kinematic self-replication in reconfigurable organisms" can be found on the PNAS-Website


Is It Scary?

As funny as it may sound at first, that tiny Pac-Mans are best at collecting small white dots, the background is just as unsettling. These are reproductive bio-robots that are also co-funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense.
The thought step to a military application is not very far.

A practical application does not yet exist.
However, the researchers want to continue working on it so that the Xenobots can take on special tasks in the future.
Previous ideas include problem solving in medicine or waste disposal. What interest the US Department of Defense could have in the Xenobots remains open.

However, as the past has shown several times, if research can somehow be misused for military purposes, then it will happen. And the thought of small artificial organisms that can not only replicate themselves, but can also, more or less, be programmed, not only suggests good things.