This Post Has Nothing to Do With Jelly

We’ll begin, galleons, with a nice, enchanting video of some pretty ocean creatures, the Aurelia aurita (moon jellyfish):

Do you feel relaxed, dear galleons? Lulled into a semi-comatose state by the hypnotic undulations of the jellyfish?

Do you suddenly have the image of pulsating hearts in your mind?

If you aren’t a scientist studying the heart muscle, odds are you probably didn’t immediately leap to the idea of a pumping heart as you watched the jellyfish lazily moving about. Kit Parker, on the other hand, does work with heart muscles in the lab every day. And so, when he was hanging out at the New England Aquarium in ye olde Boston, he noticed a striking similarity between the contractions of heart muscle and those of the moon jellyfish.

Which inspired him to create a cyborg jellyfish of his own… powered by rat heart muscle tissue.

This is the first artificial jellyfish in the world, and it moves fairly similarly to its natural inspiration (though without the grace):

I feel justified in saying this is some straight-up Frankenstein shit seeing as I recently saw a damn decent stage production of Frankenstein and can see many similarities between the jerky movements of the cyborg jelly and that of the newly hatched (dude came out of a freaky egg-womb in the play… he was fucking hatched) creature created by Frankenstein. Perhaps I should tip my hat to you, Johnny Name-I-Cannot-Remember-And-Do-Not-Care-Enough-To-Look-Up1, for your creature’s lengthy, shuddering attempts at movement. From what I’ve just seen, you did it right.

Anyway, back to the lab, where our Dr. Frankenstein/Kit Parker spent four years trying to make himself a jellyfish friend. Parker and his team began by creating a 3D model of a 6 mm in diameter baby jellyfish. Daww. Then, they took that mold, slapped it in a solution of magnesium and glucose-rich water (to keep the rat cells nourished), and slathered it with some rat heart cells, aligning them so that the fiber network of the muscle matched the fiber networks of the jellyfish. Cover all that with a layer of a liquid silicon polymer and BAM! You gots yourself a jellyfish.

The little medusoids (named for the mushroom-shaped medusa class of jellyfish, of which the moon jellyfish is a card carrying member) were sometimes spasmodically jerking and wriggling about even as the team peeled them off their little molds, but pop them off and give them a little 1 Hz jolt to get those heart cells going and those medusoids started swimming about like they were real jellies.

But, cool as the little rubber-and-rat-cell jellies are, why did Parker devote four years to creating one? Turns out that the creation of the medusoids could lead to a better understanding of how the heart operates. Differently shaped heart structures cause the muscle to work in different ways, ways we don’t fully understand. Parker’s hoping that studying how the rat heart muscle cells work on these medusoids (and on other, more complex shapes he and his team plan on creating next) could lead to a stronger understanding of how shape impacts the movement and action of the heart muscle.

The medusoids themselves also have some potential to branch off into other areas of scientific research. The small medusoids could be used as filters in biotech labs, while retooled, larger models could be employed to clean and filter things like oil spills. Plus, the medusoids could lead to new implants for the human body, particularly in the replacement of pacemakers.

Whatever their eventual uses, it’s pretty neat to watch those cyborg jellies swim about. Good work, Dr. Frankparker. Good work.

1 The actor’s name is Jonny Lee Miller, by the way. I felt bad and had to look it up.

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