PASADENA, Calif.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 elementsiliconand muscle cells into a freely swimming "jellyfish."
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 componentswithout necessarily understanding if those components are relevant to the desired function or without analyzing first how different materials could be used." Because a particular functionswimming, saydoesn'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 functionsswimming and creating feeding currentsas 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 functionon a very basic levelis similar to that of a human heart, which makes the animal a good biological system to analyze for use in tissue engineering.
|Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges|
California Institute of Technology