Ah, Friday evening. A time when, even though the news may continue, many people stop paying attention to it, as they accept the relief offered by a weekend to turn inward toward their own recuperation, recreation, or other aspects of their personal lives. As such, it is often a time taken advantage of by media outlets seeking to bury bad news amid the collective disengagement of the news-consuming population.
Today, thanks to me, National Review will be one of those outlets, to relate a development from the world of science (though a development that, in truth, emerged earlier this week). Apparently, scientists have created what CNN calls “the first living robots,” and recently discovered that this dubious spawn is capable of a kind of reproduction. From the story:
The US scientists who created the first living robots say the life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce — and in a way not seen in plants and animals.
Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. The tiny blobs were first unveiled in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups and self-heal.
Now the scientists that developed them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said they have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science.
“I was astounded by it,” said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University who was co-lead author of the new research.
“Frogs have a way of reproducing that they normally use but when you … liberate (the cells) from the rest of the embryo and you give them a chance to figure out how to be in a new environment, not only do they figure out a new way to move, but they also figure out apparently a new way to reproduce.”
Oh, good: Another set of scientists scientists so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. So now we have xenobots who can self-replicate. But don’t worry, we are assured. The utmost precautions are being taken:
While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology could spark concern, the researchers said that the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished, as they are biodegradable and regulated by ethics experts.
Oh, thank goodness! I am so relieved. It’s not like there are any recent examples of experts getting something wrong, or things escaping from a lab. I’m sure we’ll be just fine. Unless the supervolcano or the asteroids get us first.