In Michael Levins laboratory at Tufts University, cells can expect to find themselves in unusual company.
Here, the precursors of frog skin sidle up to cells that, in another life, might have helped an amphibians heart beat. Theyre perfect strangers: biological entities that, up until this point, had no business being together. And yet, Levin and his colleagues have found that skin cells and heart cells can be coaxed into coalescing. Placed side by side, they will self-organize into intricate, three-dimensional mosaics of frog cells that arent actually frogs.
Designed by a computer algorithm and surgically shaped by human hands, these skin-heart hybrids, each roughly the size of a grain of sand, dont resemble anything found in nature. But the tasks they accomplish are eerily familiar: Without any external input, they can zoom around Petri dishes, push microscopic objects to and fro, and even stitch themselves back together after being cut.
Levin calls these clusters of cells a new form of lifeone thats not quite an organism and not quite a machine, but perhaps somewhere in between. Named xenobots in honor of the Xenopus laevis African clawed frogs from which their cells derive, they have enormous potential to reveal the rules that govern how the building blocks of life assemble.
With a lot of additional tinkering, xenobot technology could also someday be harnessed to deliver drugs, collect environmental contaminants, and more, Levin and his colleagues write today in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. Unlike traditional robots, they argue, the living, self-healing xenobots of the future could theoretically accomplish these feats without polluting the planetand repair themselves to boot.
As plastics and other difficult-to-degrade polymers continue to accumulate in the environment, the incredibly innovative approach offered by the xenobots could be really important for sustainability, says Tara Deans, a biomedical engineer and synthetic biologist at the University of Utah who wasnt involved in the study.
But xenobots also raise a bevy of ethical questions. If things go awry, humans may need protection against these and other forms of artificial lifeor, perhaps, vice versa. When youre creating life, you dont have a good sense of what direction its going to take, says Nita Farahany, who studies the ethical ramifications of new technologies at Duke University and was not involved in the study. Any time we try to harness life [we should] recognize its potential to go really poorly.
In the past several decades, humankind has made staggering advances in robotics. Machines can now master difficult board games, and navigate tough terrain; they can steer themselves as autonomous vehicles, and search for survivors in the wake of disaster. But many of the basic functions that living things accomplish still flummox devices built by human hands. Even in their most creative configurations, metals and plastics simply cant live up to cells.
Biological systems are kind of the envy of all robotics, Levin says. Theyre adaptable, theyre flexible, they self-repair. We dont have robots that can do that. So Levin and his colleagues decided to try and build one that could.
Teaming up with roboticists Sam Kriegman and Josh Bongard at the University of Vermont, Levin and Douglas Blackiston, also at Tufts, asked a computer algorithm to design a series of living machines, using only a few hundred or thousand frog skin or frog heart cells as raw ingredients. The algorithm was instructed to optimize each xenobot for a different basic function, like moving back and forth or manipulating objects.
Its pretty much a hands-off method, Bongard says. We tell the algorithm what we want xenobot to do, but we dont tell it how the xenobot should do it. So the algorithm can explore this infinite space of form and function.
After cycling through multiple configurations, the algorithm would spit out the digital blueprints it believed were best suited to the task at hand. The researchers would then attempt to recreate these designs in Levins lab.
Even after being scraped out of frog embryos and shaken apart in a fluid-filled dish, skin and heart cells will eagerly glom together, aggregating into amorphous clumps thousands of units thick. The cells like to be with each other, Levin says. Next, Blackiston, the teams resident microsurgeon, would take the nascent bots and sculpt them into shapes specified by the computer.
All the xenobots ingredients were bona fide frog. But there was nothing amphibian about the final forms they took. A few were crafted into two-lobed blobs, while others took the forms of hollow, prism-like structures. The bots lacked limbs, skeletons and nervous systems. But they handily tackled the tasks theyd been designed to do.
Tailored to maximize movement, some scooted along the bottom of a Petri dish like microscopic inchworms, powered solely by the contractions of the heart cells studding their interiors. Others, built to transport bits of particulate matter, herded their cargo like sheepdogs, while more still carried it in vacant pouches carved into their custom-made bodies. In some cases, xenobots even interacted, colliding and orbiting each other before eventually coming back apart.
The teams approach, which relies on a mashup of computational and biological techniques, resembles other technologies that have rejiggered the known building blocks of life, says Deans. But rather than tweaking a known template like DNA, the teams techniquewhich simply rearranges existing cells into new configurationsfeels more organic, she says. This process has a resounding respect for the biology thats involved.
At just a millimeter or so across, the xenobots arent capable of much yet. Devoid of mouths or digestive systems, theyre fueled exclusively by the bits of embryonic yolk they came with, and die after about a week when that juice runs dry, Bongard says. But he and his colleagues think the bots could someday be used to deliver drugs into human bodies, or scrape plaque out of arteries. Released into the environment, they could quantify toxins, or sweep microplastics out of oceans.
The team is already experimenting with different sorts of cells, tasked with new types of chores. In a haunting echo of their particle-herding behavior, their xenobots also seem capable of making new versions of themselves, corralling single cells together until they start to coalesce, Levin says. Theyre also resilient: When sliced open, the bots simply repair their wounds and carry on.
While a lot of good could come out of this technology, its also important to consider potential downsides, says Susan Anderson, a philosopher and machine ethics expert at the University of Connecticut who wasnt involved in the study. In the wrong hands, the power of xenobots could easily be exploited as a bioweapon, ferrying poisons instead of medicines into people. Theres also cultural acceptance to consider: The mere idea of reassembling existing life forms could be troubling to some, evoking thoughts of Frankensteins monster or the experimental vivisection in H.G. Wells 1896 science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Humans have certainly tinkered with the recipes of life before. In recent years, bioengineers have reprogrammed cells to churn out life-saving drugs, stripped genomes down to their most minimal states, and cobbled together amalgamations of cells from one animal that resemble the final form of another. But bespoke forms of multicellular life, synthesized from scratch, are still few and far betweenin part because much of biological development remains a black box: Researchers still arent sure, for instance, how tissues, organs and appendages manifest out of single cells.
Studying xenobots could certainly help crack that developmental code. But to get there, scientists will first have to experiment with techniques and technologies they dont fully understand, from the machine learning algorithm that designs these life forms to the cells that spontaneously comprise them, Anderson says.
What the team has presented so far is an early advance, and there are no guarantees about what will emerge from the research, Farahany says. But for this kind of work, its going to be integral to think about what the appropriate ethical frameworks and safeguards would be, she adds. When you have something living, you need fail-safe measures, and you need to know that you can pull the plug.
Bongard and his colleagues acknowledge the gravity of their work. The ethics around this are non-trivial, he says. Though the team hasnt yet brought bioethicists into their research, its something well need to do in the discussion of what to do with this technology, he adds. First, though, we just wanted to demonstrate that this was possible.
- The Role of Quality and Speed in Custom Model Generation - FierceBiotech - October 5th, 2021
- Healthcare Researchers Are Putting HUMAN Immune Systems In Pigs To Study Illnesses-Here's The Tech Behind It - Tech Times - October 5th, 2021
- Stem cells may be the key to saving white rhinos from extinction - Sciworthy - October 5th, 2021
- Global Allogenic Stem Cell Therapy Market 2021 Size, Share, Growth and Regional Analysis by Segmentation and Country Forecast to 2028 - Digital... - October 5th, 2021
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells Market 2021 Is Booming Across the Globe by Share, Size, Growth, Segments and Forecast to 2027 The Courier - The Courier - June 8th, 2021
- Conversion of mouse embryonic fibroblasts into neural crest cells and functional corneal endothelia by defined small molecules - Science Advances - June 8th, 2021
- Global Stem Cells Market Regulations and Competitive Landscape Outlook, 2020 to 2025 The Courier - The Courier - June 8th, 2021
- Global cell isolation market was valued at USD7013.71 million in 2020 and is anticipated to reach USD15529.45 million by 2026 - Yahoo Finance - June 8th, 2021
- Human blastocyst-like structures generated entirely from pluripotent stem cells. Shifting the paradigm of developmental biology? - ESHRE - April 4th, 2021
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market 2021 Is Rapidly Increasing Worldwide in Near Future | Top Companies Analysis- ESI BIO, Thermo Fisher,... - April 4th, 2021
- New Michigan law requires those receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccine be told it was developed using stem cells | TheHill - The Hill - April 4th, 2021
- Xenobots 2.0 are Here and Still Developed With Frog Stem Cells - Unite.AI - April 4th, 2021
- Global Human Embryonic Stem Cells Industry Market 2021 In-depth Industry Analysis, Growth By 2027:Lonza Group Ltd., Life Technologies Corporation,... - April 4th, 2021
- AgeX Therapeutics Reports Fourth Quarter and Annual 2020 Financial Results and Provides Business Update - Business Wire - April 4th, 2021
- Research Associate in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine job with KINGS COLLEGE LONDON | 246711 - Times Higher Education (THE) - February 17th, 2021
- Stem Cells Market Size 2021 by Share Growing Rapidly with Recent Trends, Size, Development, Revenue, Demand and Forecast to 2024 NeighborWebSJ -... - February 17th, 2021
- Cell transplant therapy could be a treatment for leading cause of blindness - The Denver Channel - February 17th, 2021
- Cellular Reprogramming Tools Market likely to touch new heights by end of forec - Business-newsupdate.com - February 17th, 2021
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells Market Analysis By Growth ... - February 9th, 2021
- Pros and Cons of embryonic stem cells - Pros an Cons - February 9th, 2021
- Worldwide Cell Therapy Industry to 2027 - Profiling Allosource, Medipost and Mesoblast Among Others - PRNewswire - February 9th, 2021
- Reactivation of the pluripotency program precedes formation of the cranial neural crest - Science Magazine - February 4th, 2021
- Should We Double The Age When Science Can Experiment On Babies? - 550 KTSA - February 4th, 2021
- Why Cynata is hopeful its COVID treatment trial will succeed where others have failed - Business News Australia - February 4th, 2021
- Missouri State Representative Indicted Over Alleged Stem Cell Therapy Scam - IFLScience - February 4th, 2021
- Global Human Embryonic Stem Cells Market increasing demand with Industry Professionalist |know the Brand Players forecast 2027 Jumbo News - Jumbo... - February 4th, 2021
- Push on to Allow Expanded Human-Embryo Research - National Review - February 4th, 2021
- Stem Cells Market is Expected to Thrive at Impressive CAGR by 2025 Murphy's Hockey Law - Murphy's Hockey Law - February 4th, 2021
- Stem Cell Therapy Market Size, Top Key Players, Applications, Business Statistics, Trends and Forecast 2021-2027 The Bisouv Network - The Bisouv... - February 4th, 2021
- Stem Cell Therapy Market Size to Reach USD 5,040 Million by 2028 | Rising Public-Private Investments and Developing Regulatory Framework for Stem Cell... - January 30th, 2021
- Stem Cell Therapy Market 2021: Global Key Players, Trends, Share, Industry Size, Segmentation, Forecast To 2027 KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper - KSU |... - January 30th, 2021
- Stem Cell Manufacturing includes Attractiveness and Raw Material Analysis and Competitor Position Grid Analysis to 2027 | Merck KGaA, Thermo Fisher... - January 30th, 2021
- RNA Molecules Are Masters of Their Own Destiny Regulating Their Own Production Through a Feedback Loop - SciTechDaily - January 30th, 2021
- The chromosomal protein SMCHD1 regulates DNA methylation and the 2c-like state of embryonic stem cells by antagonizing TET proteins - Science Advances - January 23rd, 2021
- North America to be the Torchbearer to Stem Cell Characterization And Analysis Tools Market NeighborWebSJ - NeighborWebSJ - January 23rd, 2021
- New Research Grant Seeks to Clarify the Role Genes Play in Modulating Inflammation - NYU Langone Health - January 23rd, 2021
- JARID2 and AEBP2 regulate PRC2 in the presence of H2AK119ub1 and other histone modifications - Science Magazine - January 23rd, 2021
- DiNAQOR Acquires EHT Technologies GmbH to Advance Engineered Heart Tissue R&D Capabilities - PRNewswire - January 19th, 2021
- TBC1D3 promotes neural progenitor proliferation by suppressing the histone methyltransferase G9a - Science Advances - January 19th, 2021
- 'He was very honored in his work' - Mercer Island Reporter - December 28th, 2020
- Israeli biotech firm's ALS treatment shows safety of use in trials - The Jerusalem Post - December 16th, 2020
- Ca Bishops To Work w/ Govt on Vaccination Campaigns - Catholic Herald Online - December 14th, 2020
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market 2019 | Analyzing The Impact Followed By Restraints, Opportunities And Projected Developments | DataIntelo -... - December 6th, 2020
- Stem Cell Market Technology 2021 and Application, Segmentation by Leading Global Players, Market Status by Share and Size Forecast to 2024 - The... - December 6th, 2020
- Stem Cell Therapy Market Size, Opportunities, Dynamic, Outlook and Forecast To 2027 - Cheshire Media - December 6th, 2020
- Stem Cells Market will grow at CAGR of 8.61% by 2027 Cheshire Media - Cheshire Media - December 6th, 2020
- Stem Cell Medical Research to Expand in California Following Passage of Prop. 14 - Times of San Diego - November 27th, 2020
- Mechanisms of Telomere Protection Are Unique in Stem Cells - Technology Networks - November 27th, 2020
- Stem Cells Market by 2020 Research Report by Manufactures, Types, Applications, Regions and Trends to 2024 | Absolute Reports - The Market Feed - November 25th, 2020
- Autologous Stem Cell Based Therapies Market Share, Growth by Top Company, Region, Application, Driver, Trends & Forecasts by 2026 - PRnews Leader - November 25th, 2020
- Stem Cells Market Research Provides an In-Depth Analysis on the Future Growth Prospects and Industry Trends Adopted by the Competitors | (2020-2027),... - November 25th, 2020
- Stem Cells Market 2020: Rising with Immense Development Trends across the Globe by 2027 - The Market Feed - November 25th, 2020
- Global Regenerative Medicine Market 2020-2025: Opportunities with the Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act - Yahoo Finance - November 25th, 2020
- Stem Cell Characterization and Analysis Tool Market 2020: Potential growth, attractive valuation make it is a long-term investment | Know the COVID19... - November 25th, 2020
- Autologous Stem Cell Based Therapies Market 2020 Emerging Trend and Advancement - News by aeresearch - November 9th, 2020
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market 2020 Manufacturer Analysis, Emerging Trends, Top Companies and Forecast to 2027 - TechnoWeekly - November 7th, 2020
- Voters asked to approve $5.5 billion for stem cell research - Lebanon Express - November 7th, 2020
- Transcriptional priming as a conserved mechanism of lineage diversification in the developing mouse and human neocortex - Science Advances - November 7th, 2020
- Cell Therapy Manufacturing Market to be Worth USD 8 billion by 2030, predicts Roots Analysis - PRnews Leader - November 7th, 2020
- U.S. elections bring wins and losses for research community - Science Magazine - November 5th, 2020
- Stem Cell Therapy Market Size, Key Development Trends, and Growth Projection to 2027 - Stock Market Vista - November 5th, 2020
- Global Stem Cells Market 2020 Industry Outlook, Growth, Comprehensive Insights and Forecast 2025 - PRnews Leader - November 5th, 2020
- Panelists debate the implications and ethics of stem cell research - Johns Hopkins News-Letter - October 30th, 2020
- Stem Cell and Regenerative Therapy Market to Remain Balanced During the the COVID-19 Period - re:Jerusalem - October 30th, 2020
- Study Identifies Pitfall for Correcting Mutations in Human Embryos with CRISPR - Columbia University Irving Medical Center - October 30th, 2020
- Yale New Haven Health Docs: Interpreting the Uptick in Covid-19 Cases - Greenwich Free Press - October 30th, 2020
- Is the Pro-Life Movement on a Collision Course with the Coronavirus? - The Dispatch - October 29th, 2020
- Outlook for stem cell therapy - its role in tendon regeneration - different treatments for horse tendon injuries - Trainer Magazine - October 29th, 2020
- Yale Health advises against large Thanksgiving gatherings; eastern Connecticut now considered a 'hot spot' - The Westerly Sun - October 29th, 2020
- Stem Cell Therapy Market to Register Unwavering Growth During 2025 - The Think Curiouser - October 29th, 2020
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market Share, Analysis and In-depth Research on Market Size, Trends, Emerging Growth Factors and Regional Forecasts... - October 20th, 2020
- COVID-19 Analysis to Understand the Competitive Outlook of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market - The Think Curiouser - October 20th, 2020
- Competitive Landscape of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESC) Market 2020 | Global Industry Size, Volume, Trends and Revenue Forecast to 2025 - The Think... - October 20th, 2020
- Stem Cells Market 2020 is predicted to rise with a CAGR of XX% by 2026 | Including Growth Prospect, Market Size & Growth, Key Vendors, Top most... - October 20th, 2020
- Global Stem Cell Reconstructive Market- Industry Analysis and Forecast (2020-2027) - Stock Market Vista - October 20th, 2020
- Global Stem Cell Manufacturing Market: Industry Analysis and forecast 2019 2027: By Product, Application, End-Users and Region - Stock Market Vista - October 20th, 2020
- The Infodemic: Was Regeneron COVID-19 Treatment Developed Using Stem Cells and Fetal Tissue? - Voice of America - October 15th, 2020
- COVID-19 Impact on Global Human Embryonic Stem Cells Market 2020 Industry Overview, Demand and Insights Analysis Report by 2026 ESI BIO, Thermo... - October 15th, 2020
- Yes on 14 | Mailbox | independentnews.com - Livermore Independent - October 15th, 2020
- I've Spent Decades Studying How People Build Their Families. Here's What I've Learned Matters Most - TIME - October 15th, 2020