Madrid, 30 (European Press)
New xenobots, or living robots designed by artificial intelligence, have revealed an entirely new form of biological self-reproduction.
Made of frog cells, these computer-engineered creatures assemble individual cells inside a Pac-Man-shaped “mouth” and release Xenobot “babies” who look and move just like them. Then the offspring go and do the same thing over and over.
The same team from Vermento, Tufts and Harvard universities that built the first living robots (“Xenobots,” assembled from frog cells, reported in 2020) discovered that these hand-assembled, computer-designed organisms could swim in their tiny disk lab, finding individual cells , and collect hundreds of them together, and assemble the “baby” Xenobots inside their “mouth” in the form of Pac-Man, who, after a few days, transform into new Xenobots that are seen and move just like her. Then the new Xenobots can emerge, find cells, and make copies of themselves. and again.
“With the right design, they will reproduce automatically,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research, which was published in PNAS.
“These are frog cells that reproduce in a very different way than frogs. No animal or plant known to science reproduces in this way,” says Sam Kriegman, lead author of the new study, and a postdoctoral researcher at the Allen Taft Center and Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
The father Xenobot alone, made up of about 3,000 cells, forms a sphere. “This can produce pups, but then the system usually dies after that. In fact, it’s very difficult to get the system to continue to reproduce,” Kriegman says.
But using artificial intelligence software running on the Deep Green supercomputer suite at UVM’s Center for Advanced Computing, an evolutionary algorithm has been able to test billions of simulated body shapes (triangles, squares, pyramids, and starfish) to find those that allow cells to be more efficient at replication. “Kinetic” based on the movement mentioned in the new research.
“We asked the University of Vermont supercomputer to figure out how to modify the shape of the first parents, and the AI came up with some weird designs after months of work, including one that looks like a Pac-Man,” Kriegman says. “It’s very counter-intuitive. It sounds very simple, but it’s not something a human engineer would come up with. Why one little mouth? Why not five? We sent the results to Doug and he built these paternally shaped Xenobots. From Buck-Man. These fathers built sons, They built great-grandchildren, they built great-grandchildren, they built great-grandchildren.” In other words, the right design greatly increased the number of generations.
Kinetic reproduction is well known at the level of molecules, but it has not previously been observed at the level of cells or whole organisms.