An insult to jellyfish everywhere

This is supposed to be an artificially synthesized jellyfish. They layered some rat heart muscle cells on a sheet of elastic silicone polymer, and then applied a current to the medium, causing it to contract.

And they call that a jellyfish! I ask you, does it have a syncytial nerve net to regulate muscle contractions? It does not. Does it have the ability to digest particles in the water to produce energy? It does not. Can it respond to tactile contact, to dissolved chemicals, to light? It can not. Can it reproduce itself? No, not even close.

I say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that is no jellyfish. It is a rubbery toy.

They also hope to reverse-engineer other marine life forms, says Parker. “We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order.”

No way, guy. No freakin’ way.


  1. davidmc says

    I would have been more impressed if they had grown a rats heart out of a jellyfish.

  2. hortensehenriettahigginbotham says

    They start messing with octopus tissue and they’ll end up with something that will probably be smarter than them, find a way out of its enclosure and eat their faces off. Either that or maybe they’ll create a living pen that squirts ink when you startle it.

  3. roland says

    I get these posts in a Google Gadget with ads underneath: “Jesus Christ is Lord. Christian & Single? View photos of Christian singles on”. heh!

    Boy, does it seem like getting the science funded these days is mostly about creating hype.

  4. Sili says

    At least we’ve found something with the intellectual curiosity and capacity of a Creationist.

    I propose that rather than using ableïst insults, we begin using something akin to “rat-hearted polyp”.

  5. Amphiox says

    They start messing with octopus tissue and they’ll end up with something that will probably be smarter than them, find a way out of its enclosure and eat their faces off. Either that or maybe they’ll create a living pen that squirts ink when you startle it.

    Well, if they follow the same methodology, they won’t be messing with octopus tissue. They’ll be using some rodent tissue and try to make it look and act like an octopus.

    This could possible enrage the real cephalopods so much that they will storm the beaches and put all the infidel chordates they can catch to the radula.

  6. says

    Looks to me like they’re a long way off making an octopus. All things considered, that’s probably good.

  7. F says

    Yeah, that’s some “reverse engineering” there, buddy.

    We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there,

    Your enthusiasm is a good thing, but it also betrays you in this instance.

    Hey, Glen Davidson, be careful what you say about rats around here. Fair warning. ;)

  8. Fukuda says

    Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat

    Oh wow. Looks like they Never ever saw a jellyfish or perused some histological samples.

    My bet is that to get a muscular pump, the electrical activity has got to spread as a wavefront

    As described in pretty much every physiology book, yes. Gap jusnctions(among other mechanisms) sure are handy.

    We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish

    Yeah.. No.

    “I think that this is terrific,” says Joseph Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “It is a powerful demonstration of engineering chimaeric systems of living and non-living components.”

    It will really be terrific after their medusoids manage to develop and self-organize, with muscle cells being able to proliferate and grow in a coordinated way while secreting an elastic basal lamina themselves instead of using a completely artificial plastic & silicone thingy. Until then this honestly looks like some SCIENCE! stuff.

    Well, I admit that I’m hard to please with these things…

    Parker says his team is taking synthetic biology to a new level. “Usually when we talk about synthetic life forms, somebody will take a living cell and put new genes in. We built an animal. It’s not just about genes, but about morphology and function.”


  9. Amphiox says

    Even from the original article, we must not overlook the fact, that this is not a facsimile of even a adult jellyfish, but an immature jellyfish, a jellyfish larvae (or whatever the proper term is).

    And it is an immature jellyfish that is not capable of actually developing anymore or maturing anymore.

  10. Evader, the parasite-infested branch on the evolutionary tree says

    Once they manufacture a jellyfish or octopus that PZ approves, THEN I’ll be impressed.

  11. huntstoddard says

    I also heard they’re planning to upload its mind to a computer.

    No, not really.

  12. Amphiox says

    This is kind of equivalent to claiming that those cute six-legged robots “simulate” insects (without the ability to feed, produce pheromones, escape predators, navigate, etc).

    Or perhaps to claiming a Roomba is a simulation of a placozoan.

  13. Amphiox says

    It’s actually a pretty cool piece of science on its own merits, notwithstanding the uberhypage, though.

  14. Barkeron says

    Obviously they decided to go the Craig Venter way and made a lot of fuss about something that bears no proportion to its hype.

    They probably figured plain old basic research on tissue-engineered heart prostheses wouldn’t attract much capital.

    But it’s just as sad some self-declared science sites gobble it all up uncritically:

    I hate sites that run under a sensationalist hipster attitude mandate.

  15. ChasCPeterson says

    yeah, jeez. It sort-of swims. Big deal. All the cool ‘engineering’ is already built into the muscle tissue.

    Bioengineering: needs more bio, less engineering.
    Artificial Life: needs more life, less artificial.

  16. ChasCPeterson says

    madscientist: wish I’d thought of it.


    It’s actually a pretty cool piece of science on its own merits,

    It’s not a cool piece of science. It does not answer a single question about the natural universe other than ‘can rat cells be attached to a silicone polymer to make something that sort of swims like a jellyfish?’
    It’s a (arguably) cool piece of engineering.
    Personally, I’m more impressed with working ornithopters.

    From the Nature page o’ hype (imo Ed Yong should know better):

    The researchers have filed a patent to use their design, or something similar, as a platform for testing drugs. “You’ve got a heart drug?” says Parker. “You let me put it on my jellyfish, and I’ll tell you if it can improve the pumping.”

    What are they going to measure? Contractile force? How?
    It seems just dumb to me. If I have a heart drug, i’d prefer to test it on a freakin heart; you know, something that pumps instead of something that kind of swims if extrinsically goosed.

    bah for some reason this silly gimmick is pissing me off

  17. says

    I wish I’d thought a little harder before my joke up above at 17, I would have said this instead:

    No spine, no stomach, no brain. It consists mainly of a soft, jello-like substance. Its only interaction with its environment is driven entirely by the torn and ravaged remnants of a rat’s heart. People, we have the world’s first artificial teavangelical voter.

  18. David Marjanović says

    What? Jellyfish nerve nets are syncytial? Why does nobody tell me these things?!?

    some self-declared science sites gobble it all up uncritically

    Those are science journalism sites. Science journalism usually means “you take a press release and state it in your own words without even understanding it”, with nary a scientist in sight.

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    Jellyfish nerve nets are syncytial?

    no, I don’t think they are. I’m quite certain they’re made of individual neurons, with chemical synapses and maybe gap junctions.


    The basic plan of the cnidarian nervous system is that of a nerve net which, at some locations, has condensed to form nerve plexuses, or circular or longitudinal nerve tracts which may be syncytia.