Millimeter Wide Xenobots Are New Robots Made from Living Cells

Researchers have scraped living cells from frogs and reused them to make robots from living cells. Millimeter robots have been made from living cells (cells scraped from frogs). They are living robots that could be used for smart drug delivery, scraping plaque from arteries, microsurgery or environmental cleanup.

The millimeter-wide “xenobots” can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like drugs) and they can heal themselves after being cut.

They were designed on a supercomputer at UVM—and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University.

They are not toxic and have self-limiting lifespan. They could provide intelligent drug delivery or enable internal surgery. If equipped to express signaling circuits and proteins for enzymatic, sensory (receptor), and mechanical deformation functions, they could seek out and digest toxic or waste products, or identify molecules of interest in environments physically inaccessible to robots. If equipped with reproductive systems (by exploiting endogenous regenerative mechanisms such as occurs in planarian fissioning), they may be capable of doing so at scale. In biomedical settings, one could envision such biobots (made from the patient’s own cells) removing plaque from artery walls, identifying cancer, or settling down to differentiate or control events in locations of disease. A beneficial safety feature of such constructions is that in the absence of specific metabolic engineering, they have a naturally limited lifespan.

They can evolve the design.

PNAS – A scalable pipeline for designing reconfigurable organisms


Most technologies are made from steel, concrete, chemicals, and plastics, which degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects. It would thus be useful to build technologies using self-renewing and biocompatible materials, of which the ideal candidates are living systems themselves. Thus, we here present a method that designs completely biological machines from the ground up: computers automatically design new machines in simulation, and the best designs are then built by combining together different biological tissues. This suggests others may use this approach to design a variety of living machines to safely deliver drugs inside the human body, help with environmental remediation, or further broaden our understanding of the diverse forms and functions life may adopt.

Although some steps in this pipeline still require manual intervention, complete automation in future would pave the way to designing and deploying unique, bespoke living systems for a wide range of functions.

11 thoughts on “Millimeter Wide Xenobots Are New Robots Made from Living Cells”

  1. This seems a good time to bring up my perennial proposal that we engineer T. Gondi for medical purposes. It already has the capacity to travel through tissues, cross the blood brain barrier, and even enter and leave living cells, and is fairly good at masking itself from the immune system, too. And we have good reason to study it extensively anyway.

    It would make a good vehicle for delivering medical interventions in a targeted way, if you rid it of some of its nastier tendencies and threw in some genetic circuits to control its behavior usefully.

  2. I’m going to call them kermits.

    Let the folks doing file transfers call their protocols something else.

  3. They mention that if you were to actually use them in a patient you would make them from the patient’s own cells, thus solving the immunity problem.

  4. The fact that they were made from frog cells makes me wonder how viable they are – would the immune system not attack them as it would any other foreign body?

    Interesting concept making microbots from living cells though.

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