Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Medusa reimagined: Caltech-led team reverse engineers a jellyfish with the ability to swim

23.07.2012
When one observes a colorful jellyfish pulsating through the ocean, Greek mythology probably doesn't immediately come to mind. But the animal once was known as the medusa, after the snake-haired mythological creature its tentacles resemble.

The mythological Medusa's gaze turned people into stone, and now, thanks to recent advances in bio-inspired engineering, a team led by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Harvard University have flipped that fable on its head: turning a solid element—silicon—and muscle cells into a freely swimming "jellyfish."


The top shows a comparison of real jellyfish and silicone-based Medusoid. The bottom is a comparison of muscle architecture in the two systems, including macroscopic view superimposed on body (left) and close-up on striated muscle contractile fibers (right).

Credit: Caltech / Janna Nawroth

Their method for building the tissue-engineered jellyfish, dubbed Medusoid, is outlined in a Nature Biotechnology paper that appears as an advance online publication on July 22.

"A big goal of our study was to advance tissue engineering," says Janna Nawroth, a doctoral student in biology at Caltech and lead author of the study. "In many ways, it is still a very qualitative art, with people trying to copy a tissue or organ just based on what they think is important or what they see as the major components—without necessarily understanding if those components are relevant to the desired function or without analyzing first how different materials could be used." Because a particular function—swimming, say—doesn't necessarily emerge just from copying every single element of a swimming organism into a design, "our idea," she says, "was that we would make jellyfish functions—swimming and creating feeding currents—as our target and then build a structure based on that information."

Jellyfish are believed to be the oldest multi-organ animals in the world, possibly existing on Earth for the past 500 million years. Because they use a muscle to pump their way through the water, their function—on a very basic level—is similar to that of a human heart, which makes the animal a good biological system to analyze for use in tissue engineering.

"It occurred to me in 2007 that we might have failed to understand the fundamental laws of muscular pumps," says Kevin Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard and a coauthor of the study. "I started looking at marine organisms that pump to survive. Then I saw a jellyfish at the New England Aquarium, and I immediately noted both similarities and differences between how the jellyfish pumps and the human heart. The similarities help reveal what you need to do to design a bio-inspired pump."

Parker contacted John Dabiri, professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech—and Nawroth's advisor—and a partnership was born. Together, the two groups worked for years to understand the key factors that contribute to jellyfish propulsion, including the arrangement of their muscles, how their bodies contract and recoil, and how fluid-dynamic effects help or hinder their movements. Once these functions were well understood, the researchers began to design the artificial jellyfish.

Nawroth and colleagues looked at several materials from which to fashion the body of their beast, eventually settling on an elastic material that is relatively similar to the "jelly" found in a real jellyfish. The team at Harvard—with the help of Nawroth, who spent time on both campuses during the length of the project—fashioned the silicone polymer that makes up the body of the Medusoid into a thin membrane that resembles a small jellyfish, with eight arm-like appendages. Next, they printed a pattern made of protein onto the membrane that resembled the muscle architecture in the real animal. The protein pattern serves as a road map for growth and organization of dissociated rat tissue—individual heart muscle cells that retain the ability to contract—into a coherent swimming muscle.

When the researchers set their creation free in an electrically conducting container of fluid and oscillated the voltage from zero volts to five, they shocked the Medusoid into swimming with synchronized contractions that mimic those of real jellyfish. In fact, the muscle cells started to contract a bit on their own even before the electrical current was applied.

"I was surprised that with relatively few components—a silicone base and cells that we arranged—we were able to reproduce some pretty complex swimming and feeding behaviors that you see in biological jellyfish," says Dabiri, with fluid-dynamics measurements that match up to those of the real animal. "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."

This advance in bio-inspired engineering, the team says, demonstrates that it is inadequate to simply mimic nature: the focus must be on function. Their design strategy, they say, will be broadly applicable to the reverse engineering of muscular organs in humans. In addition, Dabiri and colleagues say, their new process of harvesting heart-muscle cells from one organism and reorganizing them in an artificial system will be useful in building an engineered system using biological materials.

"As engineers, we are very comfortable with building things out of steel, copper, concrete," says Parker. "I think of cells as another kind of building substrate, but we need rigorous quantitative design specs to move tissue engineering from arts and crafts 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."

The team's next goal is to design a completely self-contained system that is able to sense and actuate on its own using internal signals, as human hearts do. Nawroth and Dabiri would also like for the Medusoid to be able to go out and gather food on its own. Then, researchers could think about systems that could live in the human body for years at a time without having to worry about batteries because the system would be able to fend for itself. For example, these systems could be the basis for a pacemaker made with biological elements.

"We're reimagining how much we can do in terms of synthetic biology," says Dabiri. "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 for the purposes of advancing biomedical technology. We may also be able to engineer applications where these biological systems give us the opportunity to do things more efficiently, with less energy usage."

Other Harvard collaborators who contributed to the Nature Biotechnology paper, "A Tissue-Engineered Jellyfish with Biomimetic Propulsion," are Hyungsuk Lee, Adam W. Feinberg, Crystal M. Ripplinger, Megan L. McCain, and Anna Grosberg, who earned her PhD in bioengineering at Caltech. Funding for the study included grants from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and NSF Program in Fluid Dynamics.

Deborah Williams-Hedges | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.caltech.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Ceramic technologies for highly efficient power-to-X processes
10.10.2019 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Keramische Technologien und Systeme IKTS

nachricht Growing and moving
10.10.2019 | University of Freiburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Controlling superconducting regions within an exotic metal

Superconductivity has fascinated scientists for many years since it offers the potential to revolutionize current technologies. Materials only become superconductors - meaning that electrons can travel in them with no resistance - at very low temperatures. These days, this unique zero resistance superconductivity is commonly found in a number of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Future technologies, however, will harness the total synchrony of electronic behavior in superconductors - a property called the phase. There is currently a...

Im Focus: How Do the Strongest Magnets in the Universe Form?

How do some neutron stars become the strongest magnets in the Universe? A German-British team of astrophysicists has found a possible answer to the question of how these so-called magnetars form. Researchers from Heidelberg, Garching, and Oxford used large computer simulations to demonstrate how the merger of two stars creates strong magnetic fields. If such stars explode in supernovae, magnetars could result.

How Do the Strongest Magnets in the Universe Form?

Im Focus: Liquifying a rocky exoplanet

A hot, molten Earth would be around 5% larger than its solid counterpart. This is the result of a study led by researchers at the University of Bern. The difference between molten and solid rocky planets is important for the search of Earth-like worlds beyond our Solar System and the understanding of Earth itself.

Rocky exoplanets that are around Earth-size are comparatively small, which makes them incredibly difficult to detect and characterise using telescopes. What...

Im Focus: Axion particle spotted in solid-state crystal

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Princeton University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have spotted a famously elusive particle: The axion – first predicted 42 years ago as an elementary particle in extensions of the standard model of particle physics.

The team found signatures of axion particles composed of Weyl-type electrons (Weyl fermions) in the correlated Weyl semimetal (TaSe₄)₂I. At room temperature,...

Im Focus: A cosmic pretzel

Twin baby stars grow amongst a twisting network of gas and dust

The two baby stars were found in the [BHB2007] 11 system - the youngest member of a small stellar cluster in the Barnard 59 dark nebula, which is part of the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Symposium on Functional Materials for Electrolysis, Fuel Cells and Metal-Air Batteries

02.10.2019 | Event News

NEXUS 2020: Relationships Between Architecture and Mathematics

02.10.2019 | Event News

Optical Technologies: International Symposium „Future Optics“ in Hannover

19.09.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrochemistry to benefit photonics: Nanotubes can control laser pulses

11.10.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologically inspired skin improves robots' sensory abilities (Video)

11.10.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New electrolyte stops rapid performance decline of next-generation lithium battery

11.10.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>