The living robot! Part-frog, part-machine

Xenobot: It can walk, swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups.

Using the cells of a frog and artificial intelligence, scientists have made a creature small enough to travel inside a human body. Half-machine, half-animal, it is an entirely new life form.

What’s happening

Imagine Lego bricks that are made out of living cells. You could put them together, however you wanted, and make them carry out whatever task you want .

That is pretty much what scientists in the USA have just achieved.

This week, they claimed to have invented a whole new species, the xenobot.

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The xenobots are so small they can carry out tasks inside a human body without causing any damage.

The scientists have also made discoveries that they did not expect. When you cut a xenobot in half, it grows back together again.

It is very difficult to say with any certainty whether the xenobots are alive or if they are machines. They are built entirely from organic matter, not from wires and steel. But they cannot eat or grow.

The shape they take and the functions they carry out are decided by a machine, but they are still limited by the boundaries of biology.

Nonetheless, our culture is filled with warnings about “playing God”. Should we really be creating living robots?

Some say…

Why not? A xenobot is no stranger than a mule or a genetically modified crop. Existing parts of nature are simply being recombined. If it can help us make breakthroughs in healthcare, then we should not hold back just because it ‘feels’ wrong. Novelty is always frightening. But it is also something to marvel at and enjoy.

Others think…

Then again, say many, using computers to design new life forms, might create something unstoppable. Unless we put limits on what scientists can do, the worst is always possible. And while today we want to use xenobots to fight diseases, tomorrow they could be turned into weapons or worse.

You Decide

  1. Do you think it is wrong for scientists to build new life forms?

Activities

  1. Imagine a world in which living robots look exactly the same as humans. Write a page in a diary about a typical day in your life.

Some People Say...

“Science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), American writer and professor of biochemistry

What do you think?

Word Watch

Xenobot
Based on the ancient Greek word “xenos” meaning strange, it literally means “strange robot”: neither beast, nor bot.
Organic matter
Anything that is living (or was once living) and can rot, decay or grow, such as an animal or a plant.
Biology
The study of life and living organisms.
Playing God
Thinking you are so powerful that you can begin to create or end life itself.
Mule
Not natural. An animal created by humans. A cross between a horse and donkey, often used to carry heavy loads and work with farmers.
Genetically modified
A plant that has been altered by scientists to resist disease, produce more protein, or differ in some way from its natural state.
Novelty
Something new, original, or unusual.

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