Isn't it interesting how some of the most important advancements in science and technology are rarely discussed or shared with the general public. Instead we seem oh so preoccupied with more mundane things, like the Corona Virus for example. So on this weeks QOTW we will discuss a topic that could herald the cure to all viruses and illness, and oh so much more. Instead of worrying about the problems, lets talk about some solutions, and if you think it is OK to make new kinds of lifeforms that can serve us in ways that today we can hardly even imagine! Before I post the questions I would like to share with you exactly what these Xenobots are and how they are made!
Did you know that scientists have recently created a completely new form of life? Tiny robots called Xenobots have been designed using advanced supercomputer power and just a few skin and heart cells from a frog. It might not sound like much right now, but let me explain what these Xenobots are... the implications of this new line of science are quite staggering when you start thinking about it!
What Are Xenobots?
Xenobots, named after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), are self-healing microbots that are designed and programmed by a computer (an evolutionary algorithm) and built from the ground up using biological cells. A xenobot is a biological machine under 1 millimeter (0.039 inches) wide, small enough to travel inside human bodies. They are made of skin cells and heart cells, stem cells harvested from frog embryos. University of Vermont & Tufts University scientists have created this living machine that one day might safely deliver drugs inside the human body—and pave the way for understanding how to form organs for regenerative medicine. Xenobots can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food and work together in groups, can heal on their own and keep working. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenobot)
Researchers wanted to see if they could produce a very simple kind of robot that could perform a very simple task. The task was simply to move, in one or more directions and to survive as a distinct entity. In order to accomplish this the researchers chose to work with cells of a frog that might have the characteristics needed to create a small life-form that could move. To do this they chose three kinds of cells from the frogs, heart cells, skin cells, and stem cells. Heart cells have the ability to contract ( a form of movement) continuously and indefinatly without getting tired or wearing out. Skin cells have the ability to cover and protect the inner cells from the outside environment and provide protection. Stem cells have the ability to grow and connect other cells.
It is possible to manually put these cells together under a microscope and they will stick together and form a clump. If you know the right shape or way to put these cells together, they may be able to function and move in a certain direction. Supercomputers were used to determine the most efficient shape needed for a small number of heart and skin cells in order for them to be able to move. These computers effectively simulated natural selection and evolution by running tests of different shapes and possibilities and trying them out in a virtual world. The most successful shapes were refined and improved upon until they finally ended up with a theoretical shape and composition of cells that could move.
Animated image of a scientists making a Xenobot
Once the computers finished their work, the researchers made the same composition / shape cells using tiny tweezers and microscopes, and the cells simply stuck together, since cells tend to do that if they are from the same animal. The heart cells all beated together in unison, all sheathed and covered to retain their form by the skin cells. They were like little tiny creatures!
The resulting pulse moves the tiny xenobot forward with each beat, something like your phone might do when its set to vibrate and sitting on a table. The xenobot worked, and even more then than, it was able to heal itself if cut or damaged all by itself.
Xenobot Simulation Vs Reality
These xenobots are fully biodegradable, when they’re done with their job after seven days, they’re just dead skin cells. There are no negative waste products or other issues that we face when making industrial machines or robots using modern materials such as metals and plastics.
These xenobots are alive, self regulating and incredibly efficient yet simple. WE have never seen anything like this before and the implications are huge! The Xenobots could move around their environment, push small objects and be remodelled with a pouch to carry objects like medication. This kind of modelling will become much more advanced once quantum computers come online, this is just the start! This is because a quantum computer is perfectly suited to figuring out questions like, "what shape would be best for this robot to be able to move as quickly as possible". It could figure out the most efficient new designs in a matter of minutes or even seconds, and then even create them for you. Making xenobots that can help to move and assemble cells into more advanced Xenobots would be one of the first goals in xenobot development!
So what could these Xenobots be used for? Here are a few examples of what even very simple xenobots could do!? Xenobots could potentially be used to clean radioactive wastes, collect microplastics in the oceans, carry medicine into human bodies or travel to human arteries to remove plaque. They could be used to target drug delivery in the body to specific locations, thereby removing toxicity issues that happen when the liver has to remove excess drugs from the blood. In fact the sky is the limit for the many ways in which these Xenobots could be used!
SO before i post this weeks question, you might like to watch this short video with a bit more information on Xenobots. Fascinating stuff!
THIS WEEKS QUESTION!
There are a few ways that you can answer this weeks question depending on if you think it excites or terrifies you! The question we are asking is:
"Do we need Xenobots, and do they excite or terrifiy you?
Please feel free to disucss any aspects of the positive and/or negative sides of this new lifeform! If you are very excited about this and have some interesting ideas and ways you could used Xenobots then please share your inspiration with us. If you think this is a step toward creating frankenstein, or do not approve of this new branch of science then please let us know! It's always interesting to see what the consensus is on these very new and very important technologies.
As always there are two sides to a debate, and using high technology is not always the best solution if we can find a simpler option with less or no risks. For example, who needs Xenobots to clear plaque from our arteries if we eat a balanced healthy diet? And who needs Xenobots to remove plastics from the sea if we learn to manage our waste properly, and make products that use biodegradable materials!
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