Scientists have created a tissue-engineered version of one of the oldest animals – knocking together a silicon jellyfish.
In a feat of bio-engineering, Caltech and Harvard researchers have succeeded in creating Medusoid, an artificial jellyfish grown using rubbery silicon based polymers, and rat heart cells.
Named after the mythological creature Medusa, which the artificial jellyfish resembles, it is able to propel itself through water using a similar propulsion method to the real 500 million year old creature.
Rather than recreating the precise components of a jellyfish, the team reverse engineered an approximation of the beast by focusing on the prime functions such as swimming or feeding.
This involved a bit of artistic licence, and the team said that they improved the design where nature had missed a few evolutionary tricks.
The team combined the polymer – silicone – with rat tissue and a protein layer which formed the pattern for growth.
The rat heart tissue retained the ability to contract, and, when they put the organism in conductive liquid and applied a regularly interspersed voltage the ‘jellyfish’ was able to propel itself forwards.The energy for this could one day be self supplied by the device.
So what real life applications are there for such a device, other than scaring bathers at the local swimming baths?
Apparently the movements of a jellyfish bear substantial similarities to the way a human heart ‘beats’ to pump blood around the heart.
The scientists believe that the method they have shown is a large step towards growing synthetic human hearts to form biologically pacemakers.
A video of the jellyfish in action can be seen here.