Scientists from the University of Vermont and Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center announced this past week that they have created what they are calling “entirely new life-forms.” These new life forms are called Xenobots, and they take their name from the African clawed frog from which embryonic stem cells were taken in order to make them. The machines measure less than a millimeter wide and this gives them the ability to travel throughout the human body and perform tasks that would be impossible or incredibly invasive through traditional medical procedures. The Xenobots are also capable of surviving for weeks without eating, they can walk, swim, and are also capable of working together.
The Xenobots are Truly Living Machines
The importance and potential of this breakthrough cannot be overstated because it is the first time that a living, self-healing machine has been created. The self-healing portion is of particular interest as the scientists cut into one of the robots and it was actually able to heal itself and continue doing its job.
However, if you are imagining little metallic robots moving through the body you’d be mistaken because these machines are more of a fleshy blob that have skin cells surrounding them and even heart muscle cells that allow for it to move on its own. The design for the robots was created by a supercomputer, which took the stem cells and shaped them into the form that they would take on. Their current lifespan is about a week and they are “programmed” with their own food source that will last throughout this lifecycle. They are capable of living for up to a few weeks if they are in a nutrient-rich environment, and since they are not capable of evolving or procreating there are no fears that they could reproduce exponentially or evolve into something harmful.
Exciting Potential Uses for Xenobots
While there are a number of medical applications that the Xenobots could be used for, primarily being able to get inside of the body and travel through it without invasive surgery, there are implications for its usage that lay outside the medical field. Two of the most interesting applications of the Xenobots are that they could potentially be used to clean up radioactive waste, which is something that traditional robotics has struggled with, as well as collecting plastic in the ocean. Both of these problems are things that the human race has to deal with and to this point, while we have found some decent solutions, we have been unable to find a working model for large scale operations.
With Xenobots we may be able to program them to perform tasks like these and since they are built from organic materials there is no need to clean up after them. They do not leave behind waste in the traditional sense of the word and we also wouldn’t need large scale factories to produce them. What the actual potential is for these machines is still unknown since it is so early on, but what is clear is that they are going to pave the way for a whole new field of technology that will probably change the world.
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