Researchers at Caltech and Harvard have been doing some very interesting work in bio-engineering entire organisms using various tissues from animals and applying them to synthetic material, such as silicone. The experiment in question here, is the creation of a synthetic jellyfish, created from individual rat heart cells and silicone. The researchers printed a pattern made of protein onto the silicone membrane that resembled the muscle architecture in the real animal. The protein pattern served as a road map for growth and organization of the dissociated rat tissue that retained the ability to contract—into a coherent swimming muscle. Their creation has been dubbed Medusoid. These researchers note that the pumping motion of the jellyfish mimics in many ways the pumping of the human heart, and could lead to a pacemaker made with biological elements. John Dabiri, professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech:
We’re re-imagining how much we can do in terms of synthetic biology. A lot of work these days is done to engineer molecules, but there is much less effort to engineer organisms. I think this is a good glimpse into the future of re-engineering entire organisms…
I’m pleasantly surprised at how close we are getting to matching the natural biological performance, but also that we’re seeing ways in which we can probably improve on that natural performance. The process of evolution missed a lot of good solutions.
That last statement sounds like something straight out of every horror/monster movie. “Yeah, evolution is just not good enough. We can do better!” (cue maniacal laughter). Oh, and the researchers are planning on adding a rudimentary brain and feeding capabilities, so that Medusoid could become a completely self-contained organism that could live for years out in the wild!