Bioengineers make artificial jellyfish from rat cells
Bioengineers have made a synthetic jellyfish out of cells from a rat, a development that can have major implications in medicine.
Dubbed a "medusoid," the creature resembles a flower with eight petals and swims like a real jellyfish when placed in an electric field, Nature.com reported.
“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,” said Harvard University biophysicist Kit Parker, who led the work.
"We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish," he added.
The medusoid was built to help the team understand the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps, Nature.com added.
Parker’s lab works on creating artificial models of human heart tissues for regenerating organs and testing drugs.
The team, which has filed a patent for its design, now plans to build a medusoid using human heart cells.
“You’ve got a heart drug? You let me put it on my jellyfish, and I’ll tell you if it can improve the pumping,” Parker said.
Parker also said they also hope to reverse-engineer other marine life forms.
“We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order,” he said.
Building a jellyfish
In 2007, he was looking for ways to study muscular pumps when he visited the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts.
He thought of "building" a jellyfish when he saw the jellyfish display.
For his project, Parker recruited John Dabiri, a bioengineer who studies biological propulsion at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.
Janna Nawroth, a Caltech graduate student who performed most of the experiments, mapped every cell in the bodies of juvenile moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) to see how they swim.
Like the human heart, the bell "pumps" electrical signals to fibers that make the jellyfish move.
“It’s exactly like what you see in the heart. My bet is that to get a muscular pump, the electrical activity has got to spread as a wavefront,” Parker said.
Rat heart muscle
Nawroth grew a single layer of rat heart muscle on a patterned sheet of polydimethylsiloxane, such that the muscle contracts quickly and mimicks a jellyfish’s power stroke when an electric field is applied across the structure.
An elastic silicone pulls the medusoid back to its original flat shape, ready for the next stroke.
The result was that the medusoid swam like a real jellyfish - and even produced real water currents similar to those that bring food particles into jellyfish's mouths - when placed between two electrodes in water.
"We thought if we’re really good at this, we’re going to recreate that vortex, and we did," Parker said.
"It is a powerful demonstration of engineering chimaeric systems of living and non-living components," added Joseph Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Parker said 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,” he said. — TJD, GMA News
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