Birth of the Xenobots

Researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University in Massachusetts have created robots made entirely from living cells

“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard of the University of Vermont, one of four authors of what might turn out to be a historically significant paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artefact: a living, programmable organism.”

The xenobots, as they’ve been dubbed, are made from frog embryo cells and are just one millimetre wide. They were designed using a supercomputer at Bongard’s university and then assembled by colleagues working at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The researchers see them having multiple applications, including searching for toxic compounds in contaminated sites, harvesting microplastics from the ocean, or being deployed as drug-delivery mechanisms inside the body.

All of which will probably prove extremely useful, but shouldn’t distract from the principal outcome here: the creation, for the first time, of entirely new biological machines that could accurately be described as bespoke lifeforms.

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