Kinematic self-replication in reconfigurable organisms

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Dec 7;118(49):e2112672118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2112672118.


All living systems perpetuate themselves via growth in or on the body, followed by splitting, budding, or birth. We find that synthetic multicellular assemblies can also replicate kinematically by moving and compressing dissociated cells in their environment into functional self-copies. This form of perpetuation, previously unseen in any organism, arises spontaneously over days rather than evolving over millennia. We also show how artificial intelligence methods can design assemblies that postpone loss of replicative ability and perform useful work as a side effect of replication. This suggests other unique and useful phenotypes can be rapidly reached from wild-type organisms without selection or genetic engineering, thereby broadening our understanding of the conditions under which replication arises, phenotypic plasticity, and how useful replicative machines may be realized.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; self-replication; synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Guided Tissue Regeneration / methods
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Aggregates / physiology
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Reproduction, Asexual / physiology*
  • Synthetic Biology / methods
  • Xenopus laevis / embryology
  • Xenopus laevis / metabolism


  • Protein Aggregates