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Reverse-engineered life form could be used to test drugs.
A jellyfish made of silicone and rat heart cells ‘swims’ in water when subjected to an electric field. Image: Harvard University/Caltech
Bioengineers have made an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart.
“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,” says Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the work. The project is described today in Nature Biotechnology.
Parker’s lab works on creating artificial models of human heart tissues for regenerating organs and testing drugs, and the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.
In 2007, Parker was searching for new ways of studying muscular pumps when he visited the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts. “I saw the jellyfish display and it hit me like a thunderbolt,” he says. “I thought: I know I can build that.” To do so, he recruited John Dabiri, a bioengineer who studies biological propulsion at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. “I grabbed him and said, ‘John, I think I can build a jellyfish.’ He didn’t know who I was, but I was pretty excited and waving my arms, and I think he was afraid to say no.”
Janna Nawroth, a graduate student at Caltech who performed most of the experiments, began by mapping every cell in the bodies of juvenile moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) to understand how they swim. A moon jelly’s bell consists of a single layer of muscle, with fibres that are tightly aligned around a central ring and along eight spokes.
To make the bell beat downwards, electrical signals spread through the muscle in a smooth wave, “like when you drop a pebble in water”, says Parker. “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.”
“Ya know that part in ROTJ when our favorite ocean reeking homie, Ackbar is explaining about the defense mechanism the empire has installed on the “forest moon of Endor.” Moon? That tron-esque future Tupac display didn’t show a planet….So what is the planet that moon is orbiting?…and how fucking big is that? I mean… sometimes I think about this stuff. Questions.”—Buck D Addams
“People say kids always tease and that it’s an innocent rite of passge, but it’s not. Every time an Edgar or Billie called me “chink” or “Chinaman” or “ching chong” it took a piece of me. I didn’t want to talk about it, and kept it to myself. I clenched my teeth waiting to get even. Unlike others who let it eat them up and took it to their graves, I refused to be that Chinese kid walking everywhere with his head down. I wanted my dignity, my identity, and my pride back; I wanted them to know there were repercussions to the things they said. There were no free passes on my soul and everything they stole from me I decided I’d take back double.”—Eddie Huang, “Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir” (via girlxploded)
“We are under no illusion that design is everything in human life, nor do we foolishly believe that individuals who specialize in one or another area of design are necessarily capable of carrying out successful work in other areas. What we do believe is that design offers a way of thinking about the world that is significant for addressing many of the problems that human beings face in contemporary culture. We believe that conscious attention to the way designers work in specialized areas of application, such as communication or industrial design, is relevant for work in other areas. And we believe that general access to the ways of design thinking can provide people with new tools for engaging their cultural and natural environment.”—Richard Buchanan (via empiricaltheory)