The Medusoid

Scientists Create Silicone Jellyfish From A Rat’s Heart Muscle

Yes, there might be protests as scientists are ‘playing God’ again, but the news is too exciting to stoop to such petty protests. Scientists have mimicked the movement of a mammalian heart and made an artificial jellyfish, which can swim using the exact movements that the heart undergoes when it pumps blood. The body of the jellyfish is made up of silicone with cardiac tissue from a rat mounted on this scaffolding.

The Medusoid

Heart and the Jellyfish

The researchers from Harvard University and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) noticed the similarities between the pumping motion of a heart and the pumping motion that helps a jellyfish swim. This is the latest in the emerging field of synthetic biology. Says Kevin Kit Parker, one of the people involved in the study:

I started looking at marine organisms that pump to survive. Then I saw a jellyfish at the New England Aquarium and I immediately noted both similarities and differences between how the jellyfish and the human heart pump.

And thus was born ‘Medusoid’. The main challenge was the lack of understanding of how the heart muscles actually co-ordinate themselves via electrical signals. Then they performed something called ‘reverse engineering’. To understand how a medusa jellyfish really swims and how the muscles are all co-ordinated, the team used techniques from biometrics and crystallography. They were also able to understand the exact biomechanics of the propelling muscle contractions.

Mimicking as much as possible (Taken from the paper)

Getting everything to work together

It turns out that the mammalian heart muscles move in much the same way when they pump blood. Thus, the plan was to make the jellyfish out of cultured cardiac tissue taken from a rat. Silicone would provide the scaffolding that the structure needed. Then they matched the Medusoid with a real medusa jellyfish, part by part. They made sure that the Medusoid was a copy as long as cellular architecture went.

Cellular architecture has to match – and they do!
(Taken from the paper)

Less tricky was the design of the silicone structure. They had to ensure that the structure pushed water efficiently, like the jellyfish has evolved to do. Too much gap between the ‘legs’ and water would just ‘leak’ through. Too little and you’d just be wasting precious power for thrusting. The cardiac muscles were stimulated by electrical signals.

The work has been reported in Nature Biotechnology in this paper. Lead author of the paper is Janna Nowroth, a research student. His PhD advisor John Dabiri, an expert of biopropulsion is also an author of the paper. Kevin Kit Parker, another coauthor, is an expert in the field of tissue engineering. He had created artificial ‘organisms’ that can grip and pump. The jellyfish was really ambitious!

So what’s the next step? Endowing the jellyfish with something that even it doesn’t have – a brain. The team wants to put a small control center for the nerves so that it can decide where it wants to go.

Additional info

Published by

Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

  • Lbrewer42

    Isn’t it amazing! The incredible amount of data and science that has taken centuries to catalog and understand just so we can find out the intricacies of a jellyfish?! It has taken us centuries, building one upon another, in order to reach the place we can finally do something like this.

    …and these people using all of this organized data and scientifically advanced instruments/computers (to figure out something probably considered to be a simple thing when compared to other biological pursuits) are the same people who think all this can happen without intelligence behind the designs they are studying!

    Isn’t this notion a bit ridiculous? Jellyfish were made by a random set of events – needing multiple billions of changes (think of how complex DNA is!) over millions of years to all happen in just the right sequence; normally coming about in naturally hostile environments with nothing to protect the millions of fragile changes; and without having any advanced equipment/techniques etc. at its disposal. It just did all of it by itself. And they say people who believe in God have to have faith?!

    A big nothing miraculously produced a big bang which miraculously produced complex life forms – one (miraculously) being sentient, which in turn had to spend their entire thousands of years of existence to get to the point they could mimic a … jellyfish!

    BTW – not demeaning the accomplishment. Just finding it humorous how the evolutionary theory can be seen as serious in a case like this! Yes, it takes multimillion dollar equipment, and almost infinite amount of research/effort/data from the past to figure out something that just accidentally happened!

    Welcome to the modern dark ages folks – not in accomplishments, but in veracity by the powers that be. Man never changes.

    • And everything needs to boil down to ‘God did it’, right? You obviously don’t understand evolution, but you need not showcase that. Yes, assuming that a God created the entire Universe in 6 days and that too just 6000 ago does require enormously more faith than the scientific process, especially when ALL scientific evidence points otherwise.