Although the tiny organisms can't reproduce, feed themselves or respond to stimuli, the authors still describe them as "lifeforms" or "living machines" due to the fact that they can feed off of energy supplied by their cells, move with intent and fix their injuries. So it is that someday the rudimentary xenobot may redefine the humanoid robot, even the human. From the FAQ on Kriegman's page: "It is still unknown what cells are capable of making besides their normal default body pattern, and these synthetic living machines are a convenient sandbox platform in which to make fundamental discoveries". They are living, programmable organisms.
The xenobots were designed with the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM using an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of candidate body forms. In the press start, Tufts College researcher and scrutinize co-creator Michael Levin stated the xenobots could perhaps perhaps also hunt for "inappropriate compounds or radioactive contamination", procure microplastics in the oceans, and whisk internal "arteries to quandary out plaque". The researchers, led by doctoral student Sam Kriegman, the paper's lead author, would assign the computer certain tasks for the design - such as achieving locomotion in one direction - and the computer would reassemble a few hundred simulated cells into different body shapes to achieve that goal. As the computer discerns which models successfully accomplish the task, the scientists decide which ones they want to actually test. They used tweezers and cauterising tools to sculpt early-stage skin and heart cells scraped from the embryos of African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis. After this, the cells were cut and reshaped into specific "body forms", said a news release from the University of Vermont.
Powered self-sufficiently by heart muscle cells, the xenobots were shown to be able move in a coherent fashion - and explore their watery environment for days or weeks, powered by embryonic energy stores.
The possibilities for custom living machines designed for a variety of purposes, from targeted drug delivery to environmental remediation, are pretty mind-blowing.
And because they are alive, they can replicate and fix themselves if damaged. Unlike robots made with steel or plastic, these would simply decompose after use.
In a test to see what would happen when a xenobot was cut nearly entirely in half, the bot automatically stitched itself together and was able to get back on track. The xenobots can regenerate, and are entirely biodegradable when they die. These were left to incubate as single cells. It's 100 percent frog DNA - but these are not frogs.
What happens when you take cells from frog embryos and grow them into new organisms that were "evolved" by algorithms? "That fear is not unreasonable", Levin says.
Levin concluded if society is going to move forward, we must better understand systems where "the outcome is very complex".
He added that as humanity furthers into the future, a better understanding of complex properties would stem from simple rules.