Party Pooper –A Medusoid Swimming Around In Your Pool?

You’re not likely to see a medusoid swimming around in your favorite rock pool for a while, but there is one out there doing its thing to best of its ability. Don’t panic just yet, this one hasn’t a sting like a real jelly fish. It does however, swim around with that relentless pulsing motion, and in doing that it has become the buzz of the of the media, internet, print and air waves.

The perpetrators of this biomimetic frankenfish are a large group of engineers from Caltech and Harvard who hit the screens this past weekend with an article in Nature Biotechnology (1).

The group are drawn to the sea as the salt water is a nice conducting medium in which lots of live action goes on. They built a silicone elastomer eight-legged star shape, about a centimeter in diameter. Rather like a flattened jellyfish. Being keen engineers, they got out their CAD programs  to print a protein pattern on one side of the rubber.

Now the second clever bit – they encouraged muscle cells to grow onto the protein pattern. Where did they get the cells? Well some rats helped out here and donated their hearts and souls to the project. The rat heart muscles were chemically disassembled and coaxed to grow on the protein template.

Then came the big day. They popped their medusoid into their lab rock pool and, in the classic movie manner, threw the switch to hit it with an electrical pulse.

Lo and behold the muscle cells contract and the medusoid starts it first swim like a regular jellyfish.  The pulsing swimming motion is beautifully captured in a movie (2). No dramatic background music I’m afraid.

The BBC has some stills, which go with some interviews (3). This is just the start. So far it doesn’t eat, sting or commune with other jellyfish, but no one could say a medusoid is a fish out of water at a rock pool party and all the guests would get a charge from its presence.


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