US researchers have created a tissue-engineered jellyfish, Medusoid, that serves as a proof of concept for reverse engineering of muscular organs and simple life forms, according to a Harvard University press release. Since the muscle that jellyfish use to pump their way through water is similar in function to how a human heart pumps blood, the research may contribute to the understanding of human organ engineering.
The project was a collaboration between researchers at Harvard University and California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Co-author Kevin Kit Parker, Professor of bioengineering and applied physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was inspired to launch the project after watching jellyfish at an aquarium. Parker collaborated with Janna Nawroth, a doctoral student in biology at Caltech and lead author of the study, as well as Nawroth’s adviser, John Dabiri, Professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech.
The researchers used a cultured rat heart muscle tissue to create the artificial jellyfish. The tissue contracted when electrically stimulated in a liquid environment. The team then incorporated a silicone polymer that fashions the body of the artificial creature into a thin membrane that resembles a small jellyfish.
“As engineers, we are very comfortable with building things out of steel, copper, concrete,” said Parker. “I think of cells as another kind of building substrate, but we need rigorous quantitative design specs to move tissue engineering to a reproducible type of engineering. The jellyfish provides a design algorithm for reverse engineering an organ’s function and developing quantitative design and performance specifications. We can complete the full exercise of the engineer’s design process: design, build and test.”Camilla Andersson