Scientists Build a Jellyfish
Researchers create an artificial jellyfish to learn more about the human heart
The scientists were inspired by the pumping motion made by real jellyfish. (Janna Nawroth / Caltech)
Using silicone and rat heart muscles, scientists have created artificial jellyfish, nicknamed medusoids.
A medusoid is not real jellyfish. But it does act like one. So why did scientists make it? Jellyfish pump their way through water similarly to how human hearts pump to transport blood inside the body. Scientists hope that by understanding how the pumping mechanism of jellyfish works, they can learn more about human hearts.
In 2007, Harvard University researcher Kevin Kit Parker realized that scientists have failed to understand the basics of how heart muscles pump.
“Then I saw a jellyfish at the New England Aquarium, and I immediately noted both similarities and differences between how the jellyfish pumps and the human heart,” Parker says. “The similarities help reveal what you need to do to design a bio-inspired pump.”
Parker and his colleagues researched the muscles of jellyfish, how their bodies contract and expand, and how fluids change their movements.
Using elastic material similar to what’s found in jellyfish, the researchers designed a thin membrane (a line of tissue or skin that covers certain organs or cells) with eight appendages to mimic the body of a jellyfish. They then arranged rat cells onto the membrane.
They set a medusoid in a tank, shocked it with electricity, and watched it swim its way through the water, much like a real jellyfish.
The team hopes that its research will be useful in building organ helpers—such as pacemakers, which set a person’s heart rate—using biological materials.