UVM researchers awarded for developing robot organisms


BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) — The National Academy of Sciences—the country’s most prestigious science organization—is recognizing the work of two UVM professors. 

They, along with two biologists from Tufts University, created what’s called a Xenobot, named after the cells they took from the African Clawed Frog, Xenopus laevis.

“Together, we created what are now known as computer-designed organisms,” said Doug Blackiston, senior scientist at Tufts University.

UVM’s Professor of Computer Sciences Josh Bongard says their “super computer” told them how to build these organisms cell by cell. “And low and behold, the physical Xenobot moved along the petri dish exactly the way the computer predicted,” he said. 

Bongard and his team were one of six recipients to receive the Cozzarelli Prize.

“So that means out of all the papers that they published in the last year, it was a vote by the editors and they felt that ours made the most significant contribution to that field,” said Blackiston.

Bongard says it’s possible these bio-robots could one day perform useful functions in the human body such as “deliver medications to different parts of the body, chase down cancer cells, scrape plaque from arteries, basically do the maintenance that – at the moment – is difficult to do with certain surgical procedures,” said Bongard.

While it’s too soon to know whether this research can used to address Covid-19, Blackiston says it’s very possible. 

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