Monday, April 12, 2021
Home Science Living robots made from frog skin cells can sense their environment

Living robots made from frog skin cells can sense their environment


A xenobot, made from from frog skin cells

Douglas Blackiston

A microscopic, dwelling robotic that can heal and energy itself has been created out of frog skin cells.

Xenobots, named after the frog species Xenopus laevis that the cells come from, had been first described final yr. Now the workforce behind the robots has improved their design and demonstrated new capabilities.


To create the spherical xenobots, Michael Levin at Tufts University in Massachusetts and his colleagues extracted tissue from 24-hour-old frog embryos which shaped into spheroid constructions after minimal bodily manipulation.

Where the earlier model relied on the contraction of coronary heart muscle cells to maneuver them ahead by pushing off surfaces, these new xenobots swim round sooner, being self-propelled by hair-like constructions on their floor. They additionally dwell between three and 7 days longer than their predecessors, which solely lasted about seven days, and have the power to sense their environment to some extent, turning crimson when uncovered to blue gentle.

“The fundamental finding here is that when you liberate skin cells from their normal context, and you give them a chance to reimagine their multicellularity, they can build other things than what they normally build,” says Levin. “To me, one of the most exciting things here is plasticity. This idea that even normal cells, not genetically modified, with a normal frog genome, are in fact capable of building something completely different.”

The xenobots, that are between 1 / 4 and half a millimetre in measurement, function in robotic swarms, which means {that a} group of particular person xenobots can work collectively to finish a activity.

Because they’re created from cells, the xenobots finally break aside and are completely biodegradable, says workforce member Douglas Blackiston, additionally at Tufts University. He subsequently hopes that they can be used for biomedical and environmental functions.

“Roboticists have been looking at swarm intelligence for a long time, biologists have been studying swarm intelligence in organisms. This is something in between, which I think is kind of interesting,” says workforce member Josh Bongard on the University of Vermont. “It sort of suggests, to me at least as a roboticist, is this a better path to making swarms of useful machines than it is to make swarms out of traditional robotic parts?”

Previous makes an attempt at creating dwelling robots, similar to a wirelessly managed cockroach, have concerned manipulating dwell animals, elevating moral considerations. Xenobots differ from these as a result of they’re made fully of dwelling cells.

“The approach here is maybe ethically the least problematic because everything is in vitro, they just start with cells, they have no neurons, so it’s not an animal,” says Auke Ijspeert on the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, who wasn’t concerned within the analysis. “It’s really cells that they manipulate, so I find it maybe the cleanest way.”

But are xenobots extra like dwelling organisms or conventional robots? “I don’t feel any closer to an answer. Whether these are robots, whether these are frogs, whether these are something else entirely,” says Bongard.

Journal reference: Science Robotics, DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abf1571

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