Living robots – “xenobots” – can reproduce themselves.

Science News is not panicking at all about the prospect of robots that can replicate copies of themselves that can then replicate copies of themselves:

“This is an incredibly exciting breakthrough,” for the field of biologically based robotics, says Kirstin Petersen, an electrical and computer engineer at Cornell University who studies groups of robots.

Plucked out of frogs’ growing bodies, small clumps of skin stem cells from frog embryos knitted themselves into small spheres and began to move. Cellular extensions called cilia served as motors that powered the xenobots as they cruised around their lab dishes.

As the xenobots bumble about, they can gather loose frog cells into spheres, which then coalesce into xenobots themselves.

This type of movement-created reproduction, called kinematic self-replication by the researchers, appears to be new for living cells.

Left to their own devices, spheroid xenobots could generally create only one more generation before dying out, the researchers found. But with the help of an artificial intelligence program that predicted an optimal shape for the original xenobots, the replication could be pushed to four generations.

You can read more of the research here, in the Dec. 7 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.