Artificial jellyfish built from rat cells

"Morphologically, we've built a jellyfish. Functionally, we've built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat."

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.

"I grabbed him and said, `John, I think I can build a jellyfish.' He didn't know who I was, but I was pretty excited and waving my arms, and I think he was afraid to say no."

Nawroth created a structure with the same properties by growing a single layer of rat heart muscle on a patterned sheet of polydimethylsiloxane. When an electric field is applied across the structure, the muscle contracts rapidly, compressing the medusoid and mimicking a jellyfish's power stroke. The elastic silicone then pulls the medusoid back to its original flat shape, ready for the next stroke.

Parker says his team is taking synthetic biology to a new level. "Usually when we talk about synthetic life forms, somebody will take a living cell and put new genes in. We built an animal. It's not just about genes, but about morphology and function."

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."

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Current Music: Rasputina -- Rats ♬

9 Responses:

  1. Russell Borogove says:

    It's pretty ridiculous to say "functionally, we've built a jellyfish" about a sheet of muscle tissue that doesn't eat, metabolize, or reproduce.

    • pavel_lishin says:

      Baby steps!

      Or, in this case, baby rat-muscle contractions.

    • tfb says:

      These people are pretty much analogous to the first wave of AI hype: "look, we've done this impressive but basically quite simple thing, in 5 years we will have passed the Turing test / built a mammal, because how hard can it be?" Even they know that the answer is "quite hard", but they also need funding, so.

      • jwz says:

        You realize there's not actually any money to be made in the artificial jellyfish market per se, right?

        I mean, I'd buy one. But still.

        "These people" built a test harness for heart drugs. It happens to swim.

        • Russell Borogove says:

          Which is totally cool, don't get me wrong.

        • tfb says:

          What they're doing is extremely cool. I don't think it's going to help them in the long term any more than it helped the AI people to exaggerate wildly -- they haven't functionally built a jellyfish other than with a very loose definition of 'functionally'. In an equivalent way to AI, I bet some people with deep pockets might be quite interested in custom-made organisms.

    • MattyJ says:

      Not too long ago, building a sheet of muscle was considered a miracle.

      I have friends with less personality that this flapping sheet of muscle. But does it have a soul?

  2. Phil says:

    What, no "doomed" tag?

  3. MattyJ says:

    I'm going to start using "... and an octopus on order." as the new "... in bed."

    "You have a charming personality." ... and an octopus on order.
    "You will find love on Flag Day." ... and an octopus on order.

    Okay, so it doesn't work much of the time, but I need more excuses to say '... and an octopus on order.'