We may not have flying cars yet, but the nanobots from sci-fi movies and TV shows are basically a reality (1). What’s more, a new, biological type of nanobots has recently been created.
Made by scientists from the University of Vermont and the Tufts University, the “xenobots” are actually living and self-healing microscopic “robots” made from frog embryo stem cells. They are called xenobots because they were created from the African clawed from Xenopus laevis.
The little biological machines are less than a millimeter wide (<0.04 inches), they can walk and swim, they can traverse most of our bodies’ internal systems, they can survive for weeks without food, they can self-heal, and they can be used for multiple applications.
Created by the frogs’ embryo stem cells, these xenobots are crafted into different “body forms” by a supercomputer and can serve multiple different purposes. As the scientists from the University of Vermont put it, the xenobots are essentially entirely new forms of life that don’t exist in nature (2).
“These are novel living machines,” said one of the lead researchers, Joshua Bongard. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
The study was partially funded by DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – and according to it the xenobots can serve various functions such as introducing medicine into our bodies, cleansing us from chemicals, cleaning plastic from the oceans, cleaning radioactive waste, cleaning our arteries from plaque, and much more.
What’s more, scientists also hope that the xenobots can help them learn even more about advanced cell biology.
“If we could make 3D biological form on demand, we could repair birth defects, reprogram tumors into normal tissue, regenerate after traumatic injury or degenerative disease, and defeat aging,” reads the research (3). According to the scientists, this research could have “a massive impact on regenerative medicine (building body parts and inducing regeneration.)”
Of course, practical application, particularly on any significant mass scale is still left for the future. There are lots of unknowns that need to be considered with both the biological side of things and the AI of the supercomputer that’s used to design the xenobots. Nevertheless, research like that shows how fascinating the future can be.