July 23, 2012 - Bioengineers have made an artificial jellyfish
using silicone and muscle cells from a ratâ€™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.
â€śMorphologically, weâ€™ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, weâ€™ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,â€ť says Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the work. The project is described today in Nature Biotechnology1.
Parkerâ€™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 â€śfundamental laws of muscular pumpsâ€ť. It is an engineerâ€™s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.
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. â€śYouâ€™ve got a heart drug?â€ť says Parker. â€śYou let me put it on my jellyfish, and Iâ€™ll tell you if it can improve the pumping.â€ť
They also hope to reverse-engineer other marine life forms, says Parker. â€śWeâ€™ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order.â€ť