A team of researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University has succeeded in developing robots composed exclusively of living biological cells. Dubbed “xenobots,” these living robots can perform a range of basic functions, from locomotion and object manipulation to collective behavior. Their creation promises to deliver significant advances in biology and in medicine, in particular. However, it also potentially carries serious risks, insofar as the researchers themselves admit that experimenting with living cells creates the scope for unforeseen consequences.
Putting such risks aside for one moment, the team’s development of “xenobots” is impressive. First, the scientists at Vermont simulated possible configurations of individual biological cells on a supercomputer. They used what’s called an evolutionary algorithm to test thousands of possibilities and find the best candidates, ‘best’ in terms of the known biophysics of biological cells, which in this case were frog cells.