back to article AI-enhanced frog stem cells start to replicate in entirely new ways

In January of 2020, scientists from the University of Vermont announced they had built the first living robots; this week they have published reports that those robots, made from frog cells and called Xenobots, can reproduce and have found a new way to do so. The millimetre-sized xenobots are essentially a computer-designed …

  1. Spherical Cow Silver badge
    WTF?

    Is this a new form of life?

    Where does it sit in taxonomy/cladistics? Is it a new kingdom? Is it a new phylum/group within protists? Am I barking up the wrong evolutionary tree entirely???

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Is this a new form of life?

      That's way out of Order

  2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Terminator

    I for one ...

    ... welcome our new cyber-batrachian overlords, the first cells of whom have probably even now escaped confinement and are making their way into our blood streams, probably by way of a contaminated COVID-19 vaccine shipment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I for one ...

      Please don't say this. The "vaccine contains chips" mob would go nuts.

      1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: I for one ...

        Would go nuts? They already are.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: I for one ...

      They already escaped five years ago, in a contaminated shipment of red baseball caps with "Make American Great Again" printed on them.

  3. xyz Silver badge

    Sounds like...

    The AI is building its own civilisation... Eek!

    1. MrMerrymaker

      Re: Sounds like...

      Given how humanity is gone, I welcome our new overlords...

  4. Draco
    Windows

    To paraphrase Arthur Dent:

    Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'replicate' that I wasn't previously aware of.

    To be fair, the paper is talking about robotic assembly of other self-similar robots. The fact that these robots are assembled from cellular matter is irrelevant to the discussion - except that ... it's really cool (or creepy) to talk about previously living cells being shredded, assembled into a sort of Frankenstein monster, and then, themselves, assembling other Frankenstein monsters from similarly shredded cellular material.

    For those who didn't read the paper, the steps are as follows:

    1) Take a frog stem cell and remove the contents

    2) Take the cell husk and strip off the outer layer

    3) Assemble the cell inner layers into a "robot"

    4) Put robots in an environment filled with the inner linings of cell and watch the robots "assemble" copies of themselves.

    I see this less of a great leap in self-assembling robotics (although the shape is interesting) and more a testament to the tenacity of life to go on even after it's been horribly mutilated. This type of experiment shows that the forces binding life isn't just about the DNA, RNA, or macro-scale organisation - it is far deeper.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: To paraphrase Arthur Dent:

      > it is far deeper

      I agree. This is in the uncanny valley between biochemistry (e.g. looking at enzyme-catalyzed organic reactions) and biology - examining the structure and behaviour of living organisms. I suppose that what I see in that video is just the complex cell wall structures organizing themselves into local energy-minimum conformations that resemble the assemblers. It's just very advanced crystallization. I guess it might have looked that way in the Primordial Soup, and look where that got us.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: To paraphrase Arthur Dent:

      They are clumps of cells and not cell fragments. The stem cells, if left to their own devices in a suspension, clump into spheroids of epidermis with the outer cells producing cilia by which they swim. As far as I can make out what they've done is work out Conway-like rules about how they associate in clumps and from that have worked out a shape - something along the lines of the glider gun - which will assemble smaller similar shaped clumps from loose cells. They then carve up the self-assembled spheroids into this shape. The reconfigured clumps work as predicted.

      Each generation, however, is smaller. As they don't actually grow the limit is reached with a generation that's too small to assemble another one. They don't acquire energy from external sources so even the unmolested spheroids will eventually fall apart. The system is not self-sustaining.

      It looks as if it depends on some mechanism for interaction between cells which must be related to the mechanisms for growth, embryogenesis, repair and differentiation in the whole organism but which lacks the structure of the whole organism to direct it. It may offer some insight into how collections of single cellular organisms could come together to form simple invertebrates with more advanced behaviours.

    3. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: To paraphrase Arthur Dent:

      You'll find a far more reasoned and better written description of what this research group has done and what they think they've learned by reading the Ars Technica article about it:

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/11/mobile-clusters-of-cells-can-help-assemble-a-mini-version-of-themselves/

    4. Swarthy Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: To paraphrase Arthur Dent:

      Von Neumann Cells!

      I am glad that they cannot grow, and each generation is smaller and shorter lived, else we could very much be looking at the beginnings of a grey-goo scenario.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Xenobots

    more like frobots. But the burning issue here is this: do they jump, or do they stay in?!

  6. redpawn Silver badge

    Grey Goo

    but frog colour.

  7. quattroprorocked

    Is it time to dust off my copy of The Andromeda Strain?

    Or any Jeff Vandermeer, or the Kefahuchi Trilogy?

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

    Not entirely sure that that's a good idea, at the moment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

      Not with my BAC levels...

    2. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

      Bachtrian? Is that a composer with a hump? Batrachian!

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

        Never could get the hang of camel case. You are of course correct, and I really do know better :)

    3. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

      I'm sure it's fine, after all what could possibly go wrong.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Self replicating bachtrian pac-men in my bloodstream

        MAXIM 14: "Mad science" means never stopping to ask "what's the worst thing that could happen?"

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wait, what?

    so, basically, Bill Gates implanted omicron frogs into Webb's telescope? How is that even possible?!

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: wait, what?

      That's what THEY want you to think...

  10. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alien

    Tribbles!

    This will end badly…

  11. Kane Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    You say Xenobots?

    I see Battletoads!

  12. Omnipresent

    we're doomed

    best c3po voice.

    I have one question.... why are you doing this? You already know how this story ends. You must be evil, or maniacal, or way over paid. Maybe you just like to watch the world burn.

  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Gobblers?

    So, they built primitive Assembers, and instead of developing them properly to build diamond spaceships, they are just a stepping stone to their real objective...Gobblers. To "eat" radioactive waste. I hope they realise that people are radioactive too!!

  14. D@v3
    Terminator

    Do you want replicators?

    Because this is how you get replicators.

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