Scientists from Caltech and Harvard University have created Medusoid, a free swimming artificial jellyfish created from the heart muscle cells of a rat. The successful experiment suggests that it could be possible to use reverse bio-mimicry engineering to produce a variety of muscular organs.
Of course, I’m sure you’re wondering “If you’re making artificial organs, why have you made a jellyfish?” and it’s a good point. However the design of jellyfish is very similar—at a basic level—to the human heart due to the way the marine animals essentially ‘pump’ their way through water.
“I started looking at marine organisms that pump to survive,” said Kevin Kit Parker, a professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Harvard speaking to the BBC. “Then I saw a jellyfish at the New England Aquarium, and I immediately noted both similarities and differences between how the jellyfish pumps and the human heart. The similarities help reveal what you need to do to design a bio-inspired pump.”
The field of synthetic life is a rapidly growing science that focuses on replicating life’s building blocks in order to benefit humanity. Instead of simply manipulating cells at the genetic level, Parker said he was striving to do something more ambitious.
Working with two groups at Caltech and Harvard, Parker’s team studied how jellyfish rearrange their muscles and how fluid dynamics helps or hinders their movements. The result was the Medusoid. Based of a silicone-constructed jellyfish-shaped body with eight arm-like appendages, the Medusoid was created by printing a pattern made of protein onto the “body” that resembled the muscle architecture of the real animal.
These heart muscle cells served as a road map for the growth and organisation of the rat tissue, allowing the cells to grow into a coherent swimming muscle. Once it was placed into a container of conductive fluid, the Medusoid was shocked into life and began swimming with synchronized contractions.
The team aims to carry out further work on the artificial jellyfish by incorporating a simple “brain” so it can respond to its environment with instincts to move towards a light source or seek food. They hope that the results will enable them to make more efficient and effective artificial bio-organs.