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Biobots, also known as biological robots, are a type of robotics that utilizes living cells or their components to create machines that can perform various tasks. These devices are still in their early stages of development, but they hold immense potential for various applications, including medicine, environmental monitoring, and even space exploration.

Anthrobots are a type of biobot specifically created using human cells. These microscopic robots, ranging from the width of a human hair to the point of a sharpened pencil, are designed to carry out tasks depending on the functions of their individual cells and how they work together. They are self-assembled in a lab dish and show remarkable healing effects, particularly in neuron growth across damaged areas in lab conditions.

In a study published in Advanced Science this week, scientists investigated the behavior of Anthrobots that are capable of regenerating damaged neurons in a lab.

The heart of fundamental issues in evolutionary, developmental, cell, and synthetic biology, and has been taken up by a rapidly growing field focusing on building new kinds of active living structures: biobots.

This emerging multidisciplinary effort to control the behavior of cellular collectives has garnered much excitement for two main reasons. First, it offers the possibility of using engineering to reach outcomes that are too complex to micromanage directly, and hence promises to revolutionize efforts to produce complex tissues for clinical applications in regenerative medicine and beyond.

Second, increased control over the morphology and behavior of cellular collectives by leveraging morphogenetic tissue plasticity could enable the development of self-constructing living structures by design with predictable and programmable functional properties and numerous practical uses, greatly extending the current abilities of traditional fabrication practices in diverse fields as robotics,architecture, sustainable construction, and even space exploration.

In the last decade, interest in developing biological structures de novo has seen a rapid surge.Among these efforts, a subset of functional biogenic assemblies gave rise to a special class of motile synthetic structures dubbed biobots.

Early examples of biobots are hybrids between biological cells and inert chemical substances supporting them, such as gels or 3D-printed scaffolds. These assemblies incorporated living cells ranging from bacteria to diverse mammalian tissues such as nerve, muscle, and neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), as well as engineered cell lines with programmable features, all carefully crafted into diverse 3D scaffolds designed to harness and amplify the innate functionality of biological cells.

A different approach resulted in Xenobots, the first fully-biological biobots created by sculpting or molding amphibian embryonic cells into multicellular structures that can spontaneously locomote without external pacing.

But it was not known how general these phenomena are, whether this kind of plasticity extended to mammals, or what the throughput of this technology can be. Thus, researcher sought to address whether the capacity of genetically unaltered cells to generate a self-propelled, multicellular living structure in this way is unique to amphibian embryonic cells, and whether such a living structure can be built without needing to be individually sculpted or molded, but instead coaxed to self-construct from an initial seed cell, resulting in a high-throughput process wherein large numbers of biobots can be grown in parallel.

Their research found that Anthrobots induce efficient healing of defects in live human neural monolayers in vitro, causing neurites to grow into the gap and join the opposite sides of the injury. Passive materials did not recapitulate this effect, but it is not yet known which of the many possible biochemical and biophysical aspects of Anthrobot presence are required for this.

Biobots represent a promising area of research with the potential to revolutionize various fields. As scientists continue to develop and refine these technologies, we can expect to see even more innovative and impactful applications in the years to come. With enough development, the researchers believe Anthrobots may eventually acquire other applications, such as clearing plaque buildup for atherosclerosis patients, repairing damaged spinal cords or retinal nerves, detecting bacteria and cancer cells or even delivering drugs to specific body tissues.