Greek mythology has an interesting story about Prometheus. A titan and trickster, Prometheus made humans from clay. He was severely punished by the Gods for doing that. The core idea of the modern Frankenstein story from 1818 is pretty much the same. And that’s in-line with what researchers at the University of Vermont and Tufts University have done. These scientists designed and built programmable living organisms that can move around and heal on its own.
Under computer scientist and robotics expert Joshua Bongard’s leadership, the team created thousands of designs on Vermont University’s DeepGreen supercomputer. With its 1 petaflop of power equivalent to about 20,000 regular laptops, this machine ran simulations to test which designs were ideal to perform tasks such as moving in a certain direction.
Another team led by Michael Levin, director for the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, with microsurgeon Douglas Blackiston turned the computer designs into real life. These guys took stem cells from the embryos of African frogs Xenopus laevis. These were left to incubate as single cells. Then, these cells are joined using incredibly tiny surgical instruments and electrodes. When assembling these new living beings, the researchers used heart-muscle cells for motion.
The scientist found that these organisms could move around in the watery medium. The team then designed the lifeforms with a hole in the center that can carry an object. This can be a game-changer in the medical field, as these bio-bots can be used for delivering medicine to a certain part of the body. The best part is that unlike metal or plastic bots, these bio-bots will simply disintegrate after completing their tasks.
Another interesting bit is that even after slicing these robots in half, these could stitch itself back and continue its task. These scientists are receiving support from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which is funded by the US military. So, there’s a good chance that they will manage to weaponize this breakthrough technology is some messed up way.
If this has freaked you out in some way, do check out some of the other crazy research in the medical field. Just last year, the world learned about a Chinese scientist who edited genes of human embryos for at least three months. While the scientist suggested that the gene-editing was done to make the babies resistant to HIV, other experts now belie that it also enhanced the brains of the babies under this program. Then, there is another Chinese scientist that performed over a thousand head transplant surgeries on mice and then on monkeys.
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