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A tale of two publications on the “xenobots”


Those frog stem cells about which so many radical claims have been made (the paper is open access) :

At Science News:

Tiny “living machines” made of frog cells can replicate themselves, making copies that can then go on to do the same. This newly described form of renewal offers insights into how to design biological machines that are self-perpetuating…

“Originally, no one would have predicted any of this,” Levin says. “These things are routinely doing things that surprise us.” With xenobots, researchers can push the limits of the unexpected. “This is about a safe way to explore and advance the science of being less surprised by things,” Levin says.

Laura Sanders, “Tiny living machines called xenobots can create copies of themselves” at Science News (December 3, 2021)

Evolution News and Science Today:

The claim that the researchers created self-replication is highly exaggerated. The aggregation of cells into spheroids was almost entirely due to the innate capacities of the progenitor cell clusters. The researchers only arranged the cells into a configuration that maximized its performance. Their intervention was analogous to a house owner rearranging sprinklers to water more evenly his or her lawn. Most of the work depended on the design of the sprinklers and the plumbing supplying the water.

Brian Miller, “Xenobots: Researchers Claim to Have Created New Form of Biological Self-Replication” at Evolution News and Science Today (December 3, 2021)

Miller at ENST also points to John Timmer’s realistic assessment at Ars Technica.

What’s interesting is that the supposed “science” publication is largely hype and the supposed “non-science” publication is realistic.

Sometimes it feels like camping on a volcano.

You may also wish to read: Eric Holloway: Frog stem cells are NOT self-reproducing robots Calling these stem cells “self-reproducing robots” is like saying that humans create catbots when a pet cat produces a litter of kittens.


Ars Technica slams claims re living, reproducing robots At Ars Technica: But the paper buried this in language that, at best, is overhyped, and the researchers aren’t even being technically accurate when describing this work to the press. At a time when trust in science seems to be at an all-time low, this isn’t likely to be helpful.


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