A team of scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and Harvard University have created ‘living robots’ (called Xenobots) that can reproduce themselves in an entirely new process of biological propagation. They have recently published the results of their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They first successfully created Xenobots in 2020 from embryonic cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis). But with the aid of artificial intelligence the scientists have recently discovered that these tiny computer-designed organisms can travel, gather cells (loose stem cells) and assemble their own Xenobots inside themselves. After a gestation period of a few days within their ‘mouths,’ the new Xenobots look and behave just like their ‘parent’ – and can also replicate themselves, ad infinitum.
The team was amazed when they saw the AI-designed bio-bots were capable of simple tasks, but they were positively shocked to see they soon found a way to spontaneously reproduce. It would seem that the genome, once freed from the natural design to become a frog, seeks a proactive new way to flourish. A plasticity of routes to survival appears to be coded in the essence of cells themselves. Including, according to the team, a ‘collective intelligence.’
A lead author of the study, Sam Kriegman, PhD, spoke of the profundity of the project: “No animal or plant known to science replicates in this way.”
The project required the assistance of an AI program at UVM’s Vermont Advanced Computing Core. This AI tested billions of body shapes in simulation with an ‘evolutionary algorithm’ in an effort to find a shape that allowed the cells to be more effective at what they call “kinematic” replication, which has only previously been observed at the molecular level, and never before at the cellular. The AI settled on a final shape which apparently resembles the ‘Pac-Man’ video game.