Scientists in the US have created a free swimming artificial jellyfish from silicone polymer and rat heart cells. An electric shock was administered to induce the Medusoid into swimming with synchronised contractions, mimicking those of real jellyfish.
They are literally reverse engineering biological form and function in an emerging field of known as: “Synthetic life.” Researchers originally focused on replicating life’s building blocks, and now, with this latest advance, have created a simple artificial organism.
Two research groups at Caltech and Harvard worked for years to understand the factors contributing to jellyfish propulsion, including arrangement of their muscles, how their bodies contract and recoil, and how fluid dynamics helps or hinders their movements.
They used silicone to fashion a jellyfish-shaped body with eight arm-like appendages, printed a pattern made of protein onto the “body” that resembled the muscle architecture of real jellyfish and grew the heart muscle cells on top, with the protein pattern serving as a road map for the growth and organisation of the rat tissue, allowing the cells to grow into a coherent swimming muscle.
Researchers then set the Medusoid free in a container of electrically conducting fluid, and shocked it into swimming rhythm with synchronised contractions. Remarkably, the muscle cells even began to contract a bit on their own prior to the electrical current.