Biomachines: where is the line?

Xenobots are made from stem cells of a frog/Image credit: Dezeen
On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, a team of scientists and roboticists announced their formula for making a new programmable lifeform from stem cells. These are called xenobots. The word "xeno" means "frog" in latin.

Xenobots are less than 1 mm long and made up of 500 to 1000 cells. They are simple creatures, including some with legs. They can move linearly or in a circle using the energy generated by their cells and can live up to ten days.

They are speculated to be used in microplastic pollution treatment in rivers and oceans, rare earth mineral expedition, treatment of toxic and nuclear waste and to carry drugs in human bodies. In the future, more complex variants of these biomachines can be developed from human cells and can be used in more specific use such as cancer treatment. Being biodegradable, they have an advantage over their plastic or non-biodegradable mechanikas.

However, despite all these novel claims, these xenobots raises some fundamental ethical and legal questions such as where these biomachines lie on the spectrum of living and non-living beings; where will be more advanced and human-like versions (humanoids) will lie; will they have their consciousness and if yes, do they have any rights?; who will regulate them? and what about such biomachines who can reproduce themselves?

We have already seen repercussions of not controlling CRISPR technology in 2018 and two years later, we are entering a new and much more complex domain.

1. Not bot, not beast: scientists create first ever living, programmable organism, The Conversation.
2. A scalable pipeline for designing reconfigurable organisms, PNAS
3. Scientists make first living robot from frog cells, dezeen


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