New Delhi: A recent study conducted jointly by scientists at Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute has revealed a groundbreaking development in the area of living robots created from human cells. This research introduces tiny entities referred to as ‘anthrobots’ made from adult human seed cells, which is a departure from earlier work using stem cells. Previously, African clawed frog embryos were used to develop living robots known as ‘xenobots’.
As reported by a news agency, study author Michael Levin, Vannevar Bush- professor of biology at Tufts’ School of Arts & Sciences said, “Some people thought that the features of the xenobots relied a lot on the fact that they are embryonic and amphibian.”
He also added that “I don’t think this has anything to do with being an embryo. This has nothing to do with being a frog. I think this is a much more general property of living things. We don’t realise all the competencies that our own body cells have.”
He further remarked, “While alive, the anthrobots were not full-fledged organisms because they didn’t have a full life cycle. It reminds us that these harsh binary categories that we’ve operated with: Is that a robot, is that an animal, is that a machine? These kinds of things don’t serve us very well. We need to get beyond that.”
Unlike the xenobots created previously, the anthrobots were crafted from adult human cells sourced from the trachea of anonymous donors of varying sexes and ages. The choice of these particular cells was influenced by their accessibility due to ongoing research on lung diseases, particularly linked to COVID-19.
Published in the journal Advanced Science, this study, titled ‘Motile Living Biobots Self-Construct from Adult Human Somatic Progenitor Seed Cells’, not only showcases the creation of anthrobots but also raises interesting questions about the assembly and cooperative functioning of human cells.
According to reports, the anthrobots displayed diversity in structure and behavior. Some took on a spherical shape fully covered in cilia, while others resembled a football shape irregularly adorned with cilia.
The study mentions, “morphotype 1 bots are likely to assume either non-mover behavior or wiggler behavior. This may be attributable to their spherical shape with homogeneously distributed cilia.”
The experiments outlined in this study are an early step towards focusing on the medical potential of anthrobots. To explore it further, the researchers investigated whether anthrobots could go towards or interact with human neurons grown in a lab dish. Upon deliberately “scratching” the neurons to mimic damage, they were astonished to witness the anthrobots moving towards the injured region, promoting neural growth.
The study said, “Taken together, these data reveal that Anthrobots are capable of efficiently moving across damaged tissues, and that bots that have a higher rotational tendency and or higher speed have higher degrees of unique coordinate coverage by moving across a higher percentage of the scratch interface.”
With respect to the ethical and safety concerns, a news agency also mentioned “Levin said he didn’t think the anthrobots posed any ethical or safety concerns. ‘They are not made from human embryos, research that is tightly restricted, or genetically modified in any way,’ he said.”