A team of scientists recently announced that it has built the world’s first repurposed, programmable living cells. Scraped from the embryos of a frog, these cells were reassembled into an entirely new life form called ‘Xenebots‘.
“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.” Since these are natural cells, they are also capable of self-repair and healing.
The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at UVM – and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. “We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can’t do,” says co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, “like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, travelling in arteries to scrape out plaque.”
The research, however, will inevitably lead to questions about ethics and the morality of building ‘Frankenstein’ like creatures in labs. Much more discussion and debate is needed around stem cell research.
READ MORE: Scientists use stem cells from frogs to build first living robots [The Guardian]