What are xenobots? Scientists create new living robots that reproduce

What are xenobots?

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Robots that reproduce??? That too in a way never observed before in plants or animals??? Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

Are you imagining a Large Robot just assembling little tiny robots by taking over a facility? 

Guess what? You’re not thinking of Xenobots, you’re thinking of the movie Terminator. Don’t worry, They’re nothing like that! In fact, they resemble PAC-MAN.

Confused? Keep reading to find out what Xenobots are. 

Key Takeaways

  • Creation & Reproduction of Xenobots
  • Concerns surrounding Xenobots
  • Future applications of Xenobots

What are Xenobots?

Xenobots are tiny microscopic ‘bio-robots’ that were created by a team of scientists in the University of Vermont, University of Tufts and Harvard’s Wyss University. 

They are less than 0.04 inches wide and are made from the stem cells of a frog species called ‘Xeno’pus Laevis and hence the name – Xenobots.

“But if they are made of living cells, how are they robots then ?” 

We had the same question in our minds as well. There is no better answer for that question than the one given by Dr. Josh Bongard – 

“Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people”

Dr. Josh Bongard, a professor at the University of Vermont, is the Lead Author for the study of Xenobots. He is also a Robotics and Computer Science expert who helped in the Development of the Xenobots.

What he says is that a robot is defined by its function and not its composition. And, in that sense, the Xenobot is indeed a robot. 

How are Xenobots Made?

Xenobots were first made about a year ago. Originally Xenobots were made using a combination of the Heart cells and Skin Cells of the ‘Xenophus Laevis’ frog. 

The Heart cells can naturally move and the Skin cells are naturally stationary. This allowed the scientists to ‘program’ the xenobots to move in certain ways. 

‘Programming’ the Xenobots meant creating different shapes in which the heart cells and skin cells were combined. Different combinations made them move in different ways. 

This allowed scientists to control their motion. To get a better idea of how this works read: Xenobots: How can life be programmable? 

The new Xenobots, Xenobots 2.0 were made from stem cells of the Frog. 

This time around, the scientists used Artificial Intelligence and supercomputers to figure out the best possible combination of cells to form different shapes. 

They observed that a C-Shape was the shape that showed amazing results. The C-Shape allowed for better movement, group movement and even self-healing! But these results were not expected or predicted by the scientists. 

And there was one unprecedented thing that they observed as well. Xenobots 2.0 started reproducing … by playing PAC-MAN. Jokes aside, let’s find out how Xenobots managed to do this. 

How do Xenobots Reproduce?

We have all learnt that there are only two types of reproduction – Sexual and Asexual, but Xenobots are challenging this notion.

If not these two ways, then how did tiny bio-robots figure out a way to reproduce? Well…

The type of reproduction used by Xenobots is called Kinetic Reproduction, which was only observed in molecular levels before this. 

The C-shaped Xenobots were left in Petri-Dish with loose stem cells. The C-shape of Xenobots allowed them to essentially ‘eat’ loose stem cells while spinning around in circles. 

Xenobots were able to gather hundreds of such tiny stem cells, pack them into a ball and after a few days, these balls became new Xenobots!

Should we be worried?

Although the Xenobots have exhibited unpredictable behaviours like unpredicted movement, reproduction and self-healing; scientists have reassured us that it is being strictly monitored.

All experiments are conducted under strictly controlled environments and the Xenobots are easily destroyable. 

In fact, On the contrary, we should be thinking of how useful these Xenobots can prove to be!

Let’s look at ways in which Xenobots can prove to be useful

Future applications of Xenobots

The Xenobots have various promising applications for the future. Here are some of them:

1. In surgery: 

Xenobots can be used to remove blocks in arteries. Currently, removing blocks in Arteries requires invasive surgeries. Xenobots can possibly eliminate the need for such risky surgeries!

2. Treating Cancer: 

The C-Shaped Xenobots have also been observed to ‘eat and decompose’ chemicals present in their environment. 

If they can be reprogrammed to target cancer cells and tumours, it’ll be a huge advancement in the field of medical science. 

3. Fighting pollution in oceans: 

The ‘eat and decompose’ characteristic of the Xenobots can also be used to fight plastic pollution and oil spills in the ocean.

Scientists have been long considering the use of nanobots to fight oil spills and microplastics that exist in the ocean and Xenobots could soon make this possible

Also read: Top 10 items that are polluting our oceans

4. Detecting harmful substances:


In advanced studies, it was observed that Xenobots can be programmed to exhibit ‘molecular memory’. In the future, this can possibly be used to detect harmful substances in the environment like pollutants, drugs or diseases. 

For the full detailed story about Xenobots, here’s an article from the University of Tuft: Scientists create the next generation living robots

Did you know you can make Robots at home? Check it out!

How to make robots at home?


Hopefully, we have cleared all your doubts and worries surrounding the question “What are Xenobots?”

Those tiny, PAC-MAN looking nanobots, due to their possible future applications, could help shape our future.

Nano-technology is the field of science that helped to make Xenobots possible. If you are more than just intrigued and are looking for a possible career in Nanotechnology or simply looking to learn more about the topic, check out: Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Who knows, maybe one day this can be you – 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Nanobots being used today?

No, nanobots are not currently used. However, there are microbots that are being used currently.
Read here to find out more about Microbots: 6 Powerful microbots

Should we use Nanotechnology?

Scientists and engineers believe nanotechnology can be used to benefit human health now and in the future through applications such as better filters for improving water purification or better methods for delivering drugs to targeted areas in the body.
Read here for more: Benefits and Risks of Nanotechnology 

What are nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are particles that range from 1-100 nanometres in size.
1 nanometer is equal to 10–9 metre

What are Nanoparticles used for?

Nanoparticles are now being used in the manufacture of scratch-proof eyeglasses, crack-resistant paints, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, transparent sunscreens, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and ceramic coatings for solar cells.
Read here for more: What are nanoparticles?

Are there other technological advancements that we don’t know about?

Yes, there are many such innovations that people aren’t aware of. Check out: 8 missing technologies you didn’t know about

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