'Living robot' developed by scientists using frog embryos

James Marshall
January 14, 2020

Scientists in the USA claim to have created zombie robots from reanimated frog cells, giving rise to a living organism never seen or created before which can perform important tasks while healing itself.

After the designs had evolved over 100 generations, the researchers chose a small sample to build in the lab using early-stage skin and heart cells harvested from African clawed frogs.

"We here present a method that designs completely biological machines from the ground up", the team from the University of Vermont writes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An algorithm running on a supercomputer created thousands of candidate designs for the new creature, before being assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. These cells were then individually cut using tiny forceps, and an even tinier electrode, and joined under a microscope into a close approximation of the designs specified by the computer, the researchers said.

Numerous robots we saw at CES 2020 last week took design cues from animals, but the frog-bots are quite different.

Those millimeter-wide reconfigurable organisms were shown to be able to move and explore their watery environment for days or weeks, according to the study. It's a new class of artifact: "a living, programmable organism", said study co-author Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont in the US.

They could move around in circles, collectively pushing pellets into a central location.

"We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can't do", said Michael Levin at Tufts University, "like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, traveling in arteries to scrape out plaque".

Some scientists have already questioned whether these organic robots can be called "living", given that they have no reproductive organs and are unable to multiply.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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