Can you imagine the possibilities that could happen when Computer Science combines with Molecular Biology? There is a lot, and one of them involves the fascinating Xenobots.

Dr. Levin and Dr. Blackinston’s Work on Xenobots

Dr. Levin and Dr. Blackinston's Work on Xenobot - THESIS.PH

Dr. Blackinston spearheaded this research at Tufts University using at least 2,000 skin cells from frog embryos that he placed on Petri dishes and observed under a microscope.

The procedure was as follows:

  • He pried open fertilized frog eggs and gathered skin cells from every single embryo inside.

Dr. Blackinston Pried Open Fertilized Frog Eggs - THESIS.PH

  • He swept the cells forming a milky ball into a little well, where soon enough, the cells glued themselves back together.

Dr. Blackinston Swept Frog Cells - THESIS.PH

  • He burned some part of the ball, shaping into a living salt-sized skin sculpture.

Dr. Blackinston Burned Frog Cell - THESIS.PH

Dr. Levin and Dr. Blackinston emphasized their interests to utilize Xenobots as experimental tools to reveal basic biological principles and find better definitions.

More About the Living Virtual Xenobots

Xenobots do not possess vital organs like brains, sex organs, stomachs, or nervous systems. Though smaller than a poppy seed, more significant samples contain pulsating skin cells and heart muscle cells taken from the African frog, Xenopus Iaevis, from where they derived its name.

Living Virtual Xenobot Creatures - THESIS.PH

These programmable specimens only live for about a week. Small platelets of yolk fill up its cells, which it feeds on to promote its embryonic development. Given that living cells are its building blocks, the entity can heal from any injury, even if you tear it in half.

Additionally, roboticists design many shapes of Xenobots from physics engines similarly used in video games like Minecraft. Some designs include:

  • those with snowplow- or fork-like appendage in the front that sweeps up loose particles and deposit them in a pile overnight
  • those who use legs that shuffle around on the floor of the petri dish
  • other who swim using cilia or bobby appendages that circles each before going to separate directions

The researchers reveal their creation of Xenobots in a scientific paper in January.

Creating a 3D Model From Sim’s Virtual Silicon

In 1994, a computer graphics artist named Karl Sims presented some of the world’s first virtual creations through a video. This innovation inspired a graduate student named Sam Kriegman to create the same virtual simulations in designing his robots. Along with Dr. Bonguard, he evolved both bodies and minds of simulated robots.

He contemplated that virtual representations on TV were merely replicas that were immobile. Kriegman and his colleague worked on a DARPA project and presented one of his creations in a Skype video call with Dr. Blackiston.

Xenobots’ implications gave rise to questions in biology and ethics. Susan and Michael Anderson stressed the importance of involving ethicist like them in developing such technology. However, Dr. Levin confirmed that their research using frogs’ embryos oversees ethics after consulting an ethicist at Harvard.

With their paper on Xenobots published as the first entry of their studies, we will see more of their future work focusing on the Xenobots’ behavior with computer designs as a ball of cells.


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