Real-life Pac-Man robots have been found to procreate in a "profound" scientific breakthrough.

Researchers behind xenobots – the first living robots ever made – are stunned to discover they can generate offspring which they say could help to explain the very beginning of life on Earth.

Scientists from top US universities created the programmable organisms last year by combining stem cells from embryos of the African clawed frog with different AI-optimised configurations.

Their creations have been seen to perform different functions from walking and swimming to working together in a swarm, Dezeen reports.

The ability to produce offspring is the latest xenobot development to wow scientists who have noted that the organisms look a lot like the classic arcade character, Pac-Man.

A peer-reviewed study published in scientific journal PNAS, reveals how the bots "spontaneously self-replicate".

Michael Levin, director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University and co-leader of the new research, said: "This is profound.

"These cells have the genome of a frog but, freed from becoming tadpoles, they use their collective intelligence, a plasticity, to do something astounding."

According to the study, the procreation is a result of what is known as kinematic replication in which xenobots use their V-shaped 'Pac-Man mouthes', gather up tiny frog stem cells.

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They continue to bundle them together to form larger cell clusters that eventually become new baby xenobots, Dezeen reports.

Kinematic replication had only previously been observed by scientists on a molecular level.

Each Pac-Man parent can produce up to five generations of descendants but so far none are created with a V-shaped "mouth" which limits further offspring.

The study's lead author Sam Kriegman told Dezeen: "Right now we are using genetically unmodified frog cells, and these cells naturally form spheres when brought into contact with each other.

"Future work will investigate how to change the adhesion properties of these cells such that parents can form offspring with complementary shapes."

The lifespan of a xenobot in water is just a couple of weeks before it biodegrades but scientists hope they could pave the way for innovative uses.

Cleaning waterways of microplastics is one goal and treating anything from birth defects to cancer by replacing or regenerating human cells is another.

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The authors of the study claim kinematic self-replication "may have been essential in the origin of life".

Levin added: "The ability of xenobots to do the things they do despite being in a novel configuration, which did not exist in the frog lineage, is an example of plasticity, of problem-solving by living systems.

"It shows us that life can exhibit interesting and powerful anatomical architectures and behaviours that are not directly selected for. Thus, it sheds light on the progress of life."

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