Their creators call them ‘xenobots’ and claim that they are a new way of life. Biological machines that can move on their own, organize themselves into swarms, self-heal and have a primitive memory capacity. A new living being created by man that, according to some experts, will change our definition of life itself In the not too distant future.
Researcher and biologist Michael Levin and Joshua Bongard, a computer science professor at the University of Vermont, have just featured them in a study showing how “Make” them from frog cells. In January 2020, these two researchers already presented an even more primitive way of life (below these lines) using the same principles. Now, a year later, your Xenobots 2.0 can do so much more. They are, according to Levin, the door to a new galaxy of strange things.
A being without a brain that seems to think
Unlike other experiments to create organic robots, Levin and Bongard claim that these new organisms have not been created with cellular scaffolds or programmed to exert a specific function, but rather they have grown “shaped” by optical, surgical, chemical and genetic stimuli.
The result is small multicellular robots that are fully autonomous and capable of moving by themselves using cilia, thread-like organelles that generate movement. These beings are not only capable of moving in liquid media but they exhibit extraordinary characteristics of their own.
One of them is that they are able to repair themselves. Another, even more surprising, is that they organize themselves in swarms autonomously, showing principles of “group behaviors” without any external instruction.
Not only that: Levin and Bongard claim to prove that they can write to a “molecular memory” using a photoconvertible protein that changes when exposed to a specific frequency in the light spectrum.
In the end, they say, these organic machines can be both “a platform to study many aspects of self-assembly, group behaviors and synthetic bioengineering, as well as [método para] provide versatile living machines made of weaving to numerous practical applications in biomedicine [como reparar el organismo humano] and the natural environment ”.
A pandora’s box
According to evolutionary biologist at Tel Aviv University Eva Jablonka – who has evaluated Levin and Bongard’s work and has no connection to the research – xenobots are a “new way of life”. And creating a new way of life – as the University of Melbourne digital ethics researcher Kobi Leins points out – opens the way to numerous ethical problems. “Scientists like to do things but they don’t necessarily think about the repercussions,” says Leins.
Levin – who says that from a young age he was always fascinated by the fact that cells could associate and organize without having a “brain” to direct them – assures that this is only the beginning. Xenobots will become more and more advanced and exhibit more complex behaviors until, eventually, our very generation ‘lives surrounded by a plethora of new beings that are strange hybrids and cyborgs and robots with organic tissue and vice versa’.
Sooner rather than later, he affirms, we will have the challenge of reflect on what life is, redefine our idea of cognition and establish what rights these future xenobots should have.