Small ‘living robots’ made from FROG embryos can be used to destroy cancer cells
Small ‘living robots’ made from FROG embryos can be used to destroy cancer cells in the human body or collect harmful microplastics from the oceans
- The small robots are only 25 centimeters wide and are fully biodegradable
- Experts created the ‘living robot’ by changing cells from a frog embryo
- They were taken from the African frog Xenopus laevis and then ‘adapted’
- The team cut and assembled the individual cells into the shapes they had designed
Tiny ‘Living robots’ called Xenobots are made from frog embryos and can be used to destroy cancer cells or remove microplastics from the oceans.
They have been developed by researchers from Vermont University and Tufts University who adapted stem cells taken from the embryo of the African frog Xenopus Laevis.
The bots are only 25 centimeters wide (1 mm) and can be programmed to perform a series of tasks, including bringing medicines directly to a point in the body.
Researchers say that the new “artificial cells” can be formed in any way necessary for the task to be performed and are “indestructible” and capable of repairing themselves.
They have been developed by researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University who have adapted stem cells taken from the embryo of the African frog Xenopus Laevis
“They are neither a traditional robot nor a well-known animal species. It’s a new class of artifacts – a living, programmable organism, “said study author Joshua Bongard.
Tests showed that groups of them moved around in circles and pushed pellets at a central location – spontaneously and collectively.
Others were built with a hole in the middle to reduce resistance.
In simulated versions, before the first bots were actually made, the scientists could make this hole in a bag – to carry an object.
“It is a step toward the use of computer-designed organisms for intelligent drug delivery,” said Professor Bongard.
The 1966 cult classic Fantastic Voyage with Raquel Welch contained a vehicle that was contracted to enter the body of a scientist and cure a brain tumor
The idea of using a ‘tiny device’ to deliver medicines at exactly the right point in the human body is a common step in science fiction.
The most famous example is the cult film Fantastic Voyage from 1966 with Raquel Welch – in the film a vehicle was shrunk to a microscopic size and injected into a scientist to cure a brain tumor.
“These xenobots are completely biodegradable – when they finish their work after seven days, they are just dead skin cells,” said Professor Bongard.
“We almost cut the robot in half and it sticks itself up and keeps on going. This is something that you cannot do with typical machines. “
The breakthrough has major implications for medicine, where these machines can travel through the bloodstream and destroy harmful bodies such as cancer cells.
Professor Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University, said: ‘We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines cannot.
“These include the search for nasty connections or radioactive contamination, the collection of microplastic in the oceans or journeys in arteries to scrape away plaque.”
Main author Sam Kriegman, a PhD student at Vermont, used an evolutionary algorithm to create thousands of candidate designs.
After a hundred independent runs, the most promising were selected for testing – based on what skin and heart cells can do.
Tests showed that groups of them moved around in circles and pushed pellets at a central location – spontaneously and collectively
Stem cells – which can change in any tissue or organ – were then harvested from the embryos of the frogs and left to incubate.
Then – with small tweezers and an even smaller electrode – microsurgeon Dr. Douglas Blackiston the individual cells under a microscope in the forms specified by the computer.
Assembled in body shapes that have never been seen in nature, the cells began to work together.
“It’s 100 percent frog DNA – but these aren’t frogs,” said Professor Bongard.
After a hundred independent runs, the most promising were selected for testing – based on what skin and heart cells can do
The skin cells formed a more passive architecture, while the once random contractions of heart muscle cells became an ordered forward movement as directed by the design – allowing the robots to move independently.
These reconfigurable organisms were found to be able to move in a coherent manner – and to explore their watery environment for days or weeks.
They were powered by embryonic energy supplies, the researchers said.
“As we have shown, these frog cells can be persuaded to create interesting living forms that are completely different from what their standard anatomy would be,” Bongard said.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.