To persist, life must reproduce. Over billions of years, organisms have evolved many ways of replicating, from budding plants to sexual animals to invading viruses.
Now scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction—and applied their discovery to create the first-ever, self-replicating living robots.
The same team that built the first living robots (“Xenobots,” assembled from frog cells—reported in 2020) has discovered that these computer-designed and hand-assembled organisms can swim out into their tiny dish, find single cells, gather hundreds of them together, and assemble “baby” Xenobots inside their Pac-Man-shaped “mouth”—that, a few days later, become new Xenobots that look and move just like themselves.
And then these new Xenobots can go out, find cells, and build copies of themselves. Again and again.
“With the right design—they will spontaneously self-replicate,” says Joshua Bongard, Ph.D., a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research.