Artificial jellyfish built from rat cells


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 Biotechnology.

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.

Written By: Ed Yong
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  1. 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.”

    “You know, they called me mad when I thought of this,” a confident Parker confided at the end of our interview. “But I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.”

  2. I don’t think it’s illogical – for me, reading about it is OK; but, watching the video
    makes me feel uncomfortable.

  3. I’m way ahead of you – my second life will be as a mermaid 😀
    See ya’ll in the sea…

  4. Now just add some nerves so it can stimulate the muscle cells itself, then some cells for metabolizing food from the water to power those nerves, and it will swim all on its own!

  5. I suppose the main use for such creatures will be to create replacement host organs to genetic spec.  I cannot describe why, but the idea gives me the creeps.  We are blithely heading off without any idea of the consequences.

  6. I’m with those who say the ‘jellyfish’ is just a bath toy.  And the hyped up descriptions in the paper from the authors and the journal do nothing to the positive credit of science.  The rubber sheet with a layer of tissue-culture muscle cells can’t feed on particles in the water, can’t respond to tactile stimuli and can’t reproduce.  That’s a heck of a long way from an ‘artifical jellyfish’.

    Of course the experiment is interesting, but I’m increasingly horrified at the constant stream of overstatement scientists nowadays find necessary to get their work reported in the lay media.  In the present case the work obviously comes under the ‘scientists playing god’ heading; so why fire up the religious kooks when the reality is so different?

  7. ““Morphologically, we’ve built an MP. Functionally, we’ve built an MP. Genetically, this thing is a rat,”

  8. Ok, so you can build a jelly fish from rat heart. But can you convince over a billion people to serve you all their lives with nothing but hot air?
    Now that takes real magic!

  9. From the BBC article: The team plans to incorporate a simple “brain” so it can respond to its environment and replicate more advanced behaviour like moving towards a light source and seeking energy or food.


    @Universeman – And I am fully expecting replacement parts before mine wear out.

    That depends on which parts wear out.  Some replacements are already being grown!

    In the future people who need a body part may get their own back—regrown in the lab from their own cells.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic…. –
    The Big Idea: Organ Regeneration

    The synthetic scaffold of an ear sits bathed in
    cartilage-producing cells, part of an effort to grow new ears for
    wounded soldiers.
    (see link)

    More than 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in the
    U.S. alone; every day 18 of them die. Not only are healthy organs in
    short supply, but donor and patient also have to be closely matched, or
    the patient’s immune system may reject the transplant. A new kind of
    solution is incubating in medical labs: “bioartificial” organs grown
    from the patient’s own cells. Thirty people have received lab-grown
    bladders already, and other engineered organs are in the pipeline.

    The bladder technique was developed by Anthony Atala of the Wake
    Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North
    Carolina. Researchers take healthy cells from a patient’s diseased
    bladder, cause them to multiply profusely in petri dishes, then apply
    them to a balloon-shaped scaffold made partly of collagen, the protein
    found in cartilage. Muscle cells go on the outside, urothelial cells
    (which line the urinary tract) on the inside. “It’s like baking a layer
    cake,” says Atala. “You’re layering the cells one layer at a time,
    spreading these toppings.” The bladder-to-be is then incubated at body
    temperature until the cells form functioning tissue. The whole process
    takes six to eight weeks.

    Solid organs with lots of blood vessels, such as kidneys or livers,
    are harder to grow than hollow ones like bladders. But Atala’s
    group—which is working on 22 organs and tissues, including ears—recently
    made a functioning piece of human liver. One tool they use is similar
    to an ink-jet printer; it “prints” different types of cells and the
    organ scaffold one layer at a time.

  11.  Oh well, if the team has these plans then obviously that makes my comment invalid.  Great news that science now advances by investigators’ plans rather than by actual experimental achievements.

  12. It was not my intention to infer that your comment was invalid.  It was merely an addendum to the original article, and your post reminded me of it.

  13.  This is just the first few layers. Give it time to grow and actually do something less parlor tricky. There will be an application or many. I’m sure the consequences will be considered as they are discovered along with every new layer of complexity and function. I am more afraid of what won’t happen if similar science doesn’t continue.

  14.  Forget the jellyfish. This is 100% rat heart with apparatus. But, you can probably forget the rat, too; I’m sure other heart muscle would work. That it simulates a similar motion than jellies only matters if we only want it to behave like jellies. Beyond the motion, jellyfish references don’t matter. They needed to say jellyfish because it needed to resemble something they are familiar with in order to be able to write about it. If it wiggled, the question would be: Is it an eelrat or rateel?

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