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Meet the xenobot: world’s first living, self-healing robots

Meet the xenobot: world’s first living, self-healing robots created from frog stem cells

(CNN)Scientists have created the world’s first living, self-healing robots using stem cells from frogs.

Named xenobots after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which they take their stem cells, the machines are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide — small enough to travel inside human bodies. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups.
These are “entirely new life-forms,” said the University of Vermont, which conducted the research with Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types. The researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos, and left them to incubate. Then, the cells were cut and reshaped into specific “body forms” designed by a supercomputer — forms “never seen in nature,” according to a news release from the University of Vermont.
A xenobot with large hind limbs and smaller forelimbs, layered with red heart muscle.

The cells then began to work on their own — skin cells bonded to form structure, while pulsing heart muscle cells allowed the robot to move on its own. Xenobots even have self-healing capabilities; when the scientists sliced into one robot, it healed by itself and kept moving.
“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, one of the lead researchers at the University of Vermont, in the news release. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
Xenobots don’t look like traditional robots — they have no shiny gears or robotic arms. Instead, they look more like a tiny blob of moving pink flesh. The researchers say this is deliberate — this “biological machine” can achieve things typical robots of steel and plastic cannot.
Some xenobots had holes in their center -- which could potentially be used to transport drugs or medicines.

Traditional robots “degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects,” researchers said in the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As biological machines, xenobots are more environmentally friendly and safer for human health, the study said.