They’re perfect strangers: biological entities that, up until this point, had no business being together. And yet, [microbiologist Michael] Levin and his colleagues have found that skin cells and heart cells can be coaxed into coalescing.
Designed by a computer algorithm and surgically shaped by human hands, these skin-heart hybrids, each roughly the size of a grain of sand, don’t 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 life”—one that’s not quite an organism and not quite a machine, but perhaps somewhere in between. [They are] named “xenobots” in honor of the Xenopus laevis African clawed frogs from which their cells derive.
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 [January 13] 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 planet.
Read full, original post: Scientists Assemble Frog Stem Cells Into First ‘Living Machines’