Bioengineers have made an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart.
“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,” says Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the work. The project is described today in Nature Biotechnology1.
Parker’s lab works on creating artificial models of human heart tissues for regenerating organs and testing drugs, and the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them ( via nature.com ).
The team now plans to build a medusoid using human heart cells. The researchers have filed a patent to use their design, or something similar, as a platform for testing drugs. “You’ve got a heart drug?” says Parker. “You let me put it on my jellyfish, and I’ll tell you if it can improve the pumping.”
They also hope to reverse-engineer other marine life forms, says Parker. “We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order.”