The artificial jellyfish is made from silicon which is able to move by using some cells from a rat’s heart that allow the silicon to move in the same way as the jellyfish moves.
Researchers at California Institute of Technology and Harvard University built the “medusoid”, named after medusa, a historic name for jellyfish, as a stepping stone towards a much grander aim: the construction of hearts to replace those damaged by disease.
Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Kit Parker at Harvard and Janna Nawroth at Caltech, describe how they designed the medusoid after studying the movement of juvenile moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita).
Rather than the familar bell-shaped body of a mature jellyfish, the baby creatures have eight lobes that spread out from the centre like arms. To make the artificial jellyfish, the scientists copied this design in silicone rubber and coated one side with living heart cells from rats. The surface of the silicone was patterned with proteins to ensure the heart cells took up the right positions. To make the medusoid swim, the scientists put it in a water bath and pulsed an electric current across it, causing the heart cells to contract and relax. With each contraction, the jellyfish propelled itself forward. When the heart cells relaxed, the silicone body flexed back to its original shape, ready for another forward stroke.
The tentacled artificial creature, made from silicon, has been dubbed “Medusoid” because of its resemblance to the snake-haired character from Greek mythology whose gaze turned people to stone.
It is able to mimic the swimming movement of a jellyfish thanks to muscle cells from rat hearts which were implanted onto its silicon frame and grown into a pattern similar to the muscles of a real jellyfish.
By applying an electric current to a container of conducting liquid, the scientists demonstrated they could “shock” the muscles into contracting so that it began to move through the water.
The “reverse-engineering” project by researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University was published on the website of the Nature Biotechnology journal.