Caltech-led Team Creates Bioengineered "Jellyfish" that Swims–Advancing Biomedical Technology

On this page you will find videos, images, captions, researchers' quotes/comments, news release, and relevant background information.

Videos

This video shows the launch and swimming of a tissue-engineered jellyfish, or "Medusoid," compared to real jellyfish, and the intermediate design steps. The construct is made from silicone rubber and powered by lab-grown heart tissue. Contraction of the Medusoid, at a frequency of 1-2Hz, can be triggered by external electrical field stimulation. The Medusoid was built in a proof-of-concept study at Caltech and Harvard for designing muscular pumps for biomedical application.

Video by Janna Nawroth
Produced by Caltech and Harvard University

Right-click to download video in MPEG-4 format [21.7MB]

Learning from the Jellyfish: Squishy pumps for biomedical and engineering applications

In this video, a team of bioengineers at Caltech and Harvard University explains how they built a tissue-engineered jellyfish, dubbed “Medusoid,” that swims and propels itself like the real animal. The team explains how and why they developed a technology that turns silicone rubber and lab-grown muscle tissue into jellyfish-like fluid pumps and swimmers–advancing the design of muscular pumps for biomedical applications.

Video by Janna Nawroth
Produced by Caltech and Harvard University

Learning from the Jellyfish: Squishy pumps for biomedical and engineering applications

Most people know jellyfish as a painful nuisance, a beautiful aquarium exhibit or–less commonly–in the form of a marinated snack. Now a team of researchers at Caltech and Harvard University have taken yet another perspective on this simple invertebrate; for them, it constitutes nature’s prototype of a flexible, muscle-powered pump that could be used for medicalapplications and soft robotics. Graduate student Janna Nawroth worked with John Dabiri, professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech, and Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard, to elucidate how the jellyfish body creates flows and eddies useful for pumping, propulsion, and feeding. In this video, the teamexplains how and why they developed a technology that turns silicone rubber and lab-grown muscle tissue into jellyfish-like fluid pumps and swimmers–advancing the design of muscular pumps for biomedical applications.

Video by Janna Nawroth
Produced by Caltech and Harvard University

View/download video in h.264 format for: HD [130.3MB], iPod/iPad [51.9MB]

(Almost) ready for the Olympics: Synchronized swimming of a real jellyfish and a tissue-engineered jellyfish, dubbed “Medusoid.” The bioengineered construct is made from silicone rubber and powered by lab-grown heart tissue. It was built in a proof-of-concept study at Caltech and Harvard for designing muscular pumps for biomedical application.

Video by Janna Nawroth
Produced by Caltech and Harvard University

Right-click to download video in h.264 format [2.4MB]

News Release

Images

Colorized image of the tissue-engineered jellyfish, "swimming" in a container of ocean-like saltwater. Dubbed "Medusoid," the bioengineered construct is made from silicone rubber and powered by lab-grown heart tissue. It was built in a proof-of-concept study at Caltech and Harvard for designing muscular pumps for biomedical applications.

[Image Credit: Caltech and Harvard University]

Pseudo body shot of juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish. Imaging of a single jellyfish lappet was multiplied and rotated to form an eight-armed mosaic image suggesting the muscle geometry (green) in the entire animal.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Pseudo body shot of juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish. Confocal imaging of a single jellyfish lappet (green, F-actin muscle stain; red, α-tubulin neuron stain; blue, DAPI nuclear stain) was multiplied and rotated to form an eight-armed mosaic image suggesting the muscle geometry in the entire animal. Note that the muscle (green) is overlaid by neuronal processes (red). The purple structure at the base between the two lappet tips is the marginal ganglion, a nerve cluster that serves as pacemaker and integrates sensory stimuli. Scale: Diameter of animal is ca. 9mm.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Close-up of engineered cardiac muscle used to power the tissue-engineered jellyfish. The image shows the junction connecting the radial muscle in the engineered jellyfish lappet to the circular muscle of the main body.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Close-up of engineered anisotropic cardiac muscle used to power the tissue-engineered jellyfish (green, F-actin muscle stain; blue, DAPI nuclear stain). The image shows the junction connecting the radial muscle in the engineered jellyfish lappet to the circular muscle of the main body. Scale: Average diameter of nuclei is ca. 5μm.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Image of swimming muscle at junction between lappet and main body in juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish. The muscle bundles consist of striated as well as smooth fibers and are enclosed by a fine mesh of neuronal processes (red). Large stinging cells on the skin surface are stained brightly.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Confocal image of swimming muscle at junction between lappet and main body in juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish. The muscle bundles (green, F-actin muscle stain) consist of striated as well as smooth fibers and are enclosed by a fine mesh of neuronal processes (red, α-tubulin neuron stain). Large stinging cells (cnidocytes) on the skin surface are stained brightly as they are prone to nonspecific uptake of dyes (DAPI nuclear stain). Scale: image dimensions are ca. 200x200μm_

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Artistic rendering of the process of reverse-engineering a jellyfish. Illustrated are the different stages of analyzing and “dissecting” a juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish in order to design and build a tissue-engineered jellyfish.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Artistic rendering of the process of reverse-engineering a jellyfish. Illustrated in clockwise direction (starting at the top left) are the different stages of analyzing and “dissecting” a juvenile Aurelia sp. jellyfish in order to design and build a tissue-engineered jellyfish. This includes assaying external jellyfish geometry (bright field image) and its internal components (green, F-actin muscle stain; red, α-tubulin neuron stain; blue, DAPI nuclear stain), followed by translating these components to tissue-engineered solutions (schematics of micropatterned cardiomyocyte tissue on silicone polymer). Scale: Diameter of animal/construct is ca. 9mm.

[Photo Credit: Janna Nawroth (Caltech)]

Design of jellyfish and Medusoid. Top: Comparison of real jellyfish and silicone-based Medusoid. Bottom: Comparison of muscle architecture in the two systems, including macroscopic view superimposed onbody (left) and close-up on striated muscle contractile fibers (right).

[Image courtesy of Janna Nawroth]

Design of jellyfish and Medusoid.Top: Comparison of real jellyfish and silicone-based Medusoid. Bottom: Muscle structure in the two systems, including macroscopic view superimposed on body (left) and close-up on myofibril organization (right). Muscle structure was visualizedusing histochemical staining. Note: the color and contrast of the muscle structure have been digitally enhanced to make it easier to view.

[Image courtesy of Janna Nawroth]

Swim strokes in jellyfish and Medusoid. In both systems, the power stroke accelerates the fluid and generates thrust (right, top). This could also be used for pumping fluid. The recovery stroke generates a vortex that draws fluid towards the bell (right, bottom). This vortex helps jellyfish capture their prey. In the engineered system, the current could feed fluid-surface reactions.

[Image courtesy of Janna Nawroth]

Swim strokes in jellyfish and Medusoid. In both systems, the power stroke (=contraction) accelerates the fluid and generates thrust (right, top). This could also be used for pumping fluid. The recovery stroke (=relaxation) generates a vortex that draws fluid towards the bell (right, bottom). This vortex helps jellyfish capture their prey. In the engineered system, the current could feed fluid-surface reactions.

[Image courtesy of Janna Nawroth]

Quotes and Comments from the Researchers

John Dabiri, Director of the Caltech Biological Propulsion Lab, Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering

"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."

"We're reimagining how much we can do in terms of synthetic biology. 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."

_________________________

Janna Nawroth, Doctoral Student in Biology at Caltech and Lead Author of the Study

"A big goal of our study was to move tissue engineering away from biomimicry and towards rational design. That is, our idea was that we would replicate jellyfish functions—swimming and creating feeding currents—but not necessarily the details of jellyfish anatomy. So we studied how jellyfish functions are generated by the animal's body, and then we used bioengineered materials to systematically substitute each of the functional components ."

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Kevin Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard and a Coauthor of the Study

"As engineers, we are very comfortable with building things out of steel, copper, concrete. 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."

About the Caltech Biological Propulsion Lab