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Rat muscle + rubbery film = world's first artificial jellyfish (+video)

Researchers say they've created a jellyfish that's one part artificial, one part biological. Creation of the 'pseudo organism' could yield new insights into medical research – or even cleaning up environmental pollution.

Researchers at Harvard and Caltech have bio-engineered an artificial jellyfish using silicone and rat heart cells.
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Scientists have created the first artificial jellyfish -- a tiny blend of muscle tissue from a rat and thin, rubbery material from Dow Chemical Corporation – but with nary a jellyfish gene to its name.

The approaches used to build this "pseudo organism," as the researchers call it, may pave the way for more-effective ways to test new medicines, as well as new ways to repair or replace damaged organs in ways that use a patient's own tissue types – and no batteries for power, the team suggests.

Beyond the therapeutic lie other potential applications. The researchers say over the long term, their work could help lead to roving, autonomous sentinels that can measure pollution plumes in the ocean and perhaps even clean up the mess – while drawing nutrients from the ocean itself.

But the development also highlights the blurring line between life as it has evolved on Earth over the past 3.7 billion years and artificial forms that are beginning to emerge from labs, notes Kevin Parker, a physicist at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, in Cambridge, Mass.

Initially, biologists identified organisms and their relationships to other organisms by their shapes and the functions various part of an organism performed. More recently, researchers have used genetics to define those relationships.

Here, looks alone suggest "this thing is a jellyfish, and functionally it's a jellyfish," Dr. Parker says. Yet the faux fish's biological material comes from a rat, so genetically, it's a rat."


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