When they're not creating virtual germs inside of a computer, scientists are busy building man-made jellyfish. A team of scientists at Harvard University has managed to do the latter using heart cells taken from a rat and a sheet of silicone material. The results are mesmerizing — and just a wee bit disturbing.
The researchers used the rat heart cells to grow a thin layer of muscle across a silicone sheet shaped like the bell of a juvenile moon jelly. They then applied an electric field to the sheet and it contracted, propelling the 1/3-inch artificial animal — dubbed a medusoid — through a tank of water in a fashion eerily similar to the real thing.
There's a good reason the movements are so lifelike: Real jellyfish send out electrical pulses over their bells, causing them to contract just like the artificial one the scientists have created. All this synthetic creature needs now is a basic onboard computer and a means of generating its own pulses and we could have schools of these things gracefully swimming between artificial reefs.
Following its success in mimicking jellyfish, the Harvard team is planning to turn its efforts towards creating an artificial octopus. Let's just hope they don't give it the ability to crawl onto land.
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