Cells form on their own to live in ‘Xenobots’
The ability of cells to find their way to the planet’s body has been highlighted in a recent report when some boats are infected with parasites. their head is separated from the body through self-inflicted decapitation and then regenerates a new body within a few weeks. It’s tempting to see this as an extreme case of re-creation, but this approach leaves some deep questions hanging.
“First of all, where does the anatomical information you want to recreate come from?” Levin asked. “It’s easy to say ‘genome’, but now we know from our xenobots that there is extreme plasticity, and that cells are ready and able to build very different bodies.”
He says the second question is when to know when regeneration should stop. “How can cells know when the last ‘correct’ shape was created, and can stop it from reshaping and growing?” he asked. The answer is critical to understanding the uneasiness of cancer cells, he said.
Levin’s team is examining whether adult human cells (which have no embryonic cell variability) have a similar ability to collect in “bots”. Researchers say the preliminary findings suggest so.
Organisms, Living Machines or Both?
In his paper, Levin and his colleagues discuss the potential of xenobots as a “living machine” for collective operations such as cleaning microscopic probes or cleaning aqueous environments that can be deployed in swarms. Adami, however, is convinced that the Tufts team understands enough to start doing this. “They haven’t shown that you can design these things, that you can program them, that they are doing anything that is not‘ normal ’after releasing mechanical restrictions,” he said.
However, Levin is uninterrupted, believing that the branches of the basic sciences of xenobot can eventually go far beyond their biomedical or bioengineering applications to any collective system that shows an emerging design that is not specifically coded in its parts.
“I think it’s bigger than biology itself,” Levin said. “We need to know where the large-scale goals are coming from. We will be surrounded by the internet of things, swarm robotics and corporations and companies. We don’t know where their goals are coming from, we’re not good at forecasting, and we’re certainly not good at programming. “
Solé shares this broad view. “This work is particularly noteworthy for what it shows about the creative power of self-organization,” he said. He believes that nature can expand to see how it creates its endless forms: “One thing we know well is that nature constantly plays with biological matter and that different functions or solutions can be achieved through different combinations of pieces.” Perhaps the animal, even man, is not an entity written in stone or, rather, in DNA, but rather a possible outcome of the decision-making of cells.
Are xenobots “organisms,” though? Absolutely, Levin says, if we take the proper meaning of the word. A collection of cells that includes clear boundaries and well-defined collective and cellular activities can be considered “personal”. When xenobots encounter each other and stick together temporarily, they do not merge; they maintain and respect their own identity. “They have natural boundaries that set them apart from the rest of the world and allow them to have consistent functional behaviors,” Levin said. “That’s basically what it means to be an organism.”
“They’re organisms,” Jablonka admits. It is true that xenobots cannot be reproduced, but then neither can a mule. Moreover, “a xenobot can be fragmented and two small ones formed,” he said, “and perhaps some cells will divide and separate into mobile and non-mobile.” If so, xenobots may have some evolution. In that case, who knows what they might become?
Original story reprint with permission Quanta magazine, independent publisher’s publication Simons Foundation its mission is to improve public knowledge of science by covering developments and trends in research in mathematics and physics and life sciences.
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