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“We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order.”
July 22, 2012 7:12 PM   Subscribe

“I grabbed him and said, ‘John, I think I can build a jellyfish.’"

A group of Harvard researchers have "reverse-engineered" a lifeform by building an artificial jellyfish (dubbed a "medusoid) using silicone and cells taken from a rat's heart. More video and info at the Harvard Gazette.
posted by alexoscar (61 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I grabbed him and said, ‘John, I think I can build a jellyfish.’

Best first line for a novel ever.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:19 PM on July 22, 2012 [29 favorites]


I am not a biophysicist, but I'm still working that into a conversation tomorrow at work.
posted by arcticseal at 7:20 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Insert the word FLYING into that phrase and kiss humanity goodbye. CAREFUL ICARUS!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:22 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I was just wondering what shape our hubris will take when it finally destroys us.
posted by griphus at 7:23 PM on July 22, 2012 [20 favorites]


It'll probably look a lot like a human heart before it looks like anything that will destroy us in any final sense.
posted by The White Hat at 7:24 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK, that is just about the creepiest, craziest thing I have seen in some time. Wow.
posted by Scientist at 7:28 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, basically, a bunch of Harvard researchers got high while playing Metroid, and realized "Hey! We can actually do this!"

We're all doomed.
posted by schmod at 7:28 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Connect these guys with the Real Doll company and we've got something we can market.
posted by HuronBob at 7:32 PM on July 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


Behold, the prequel to Encounter at Farpoint.
posted by Gator at 7:35 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know I was just a little overly skeptical and dismissive in the artificial cell thread, which is a million times more complicated and useful than this, that THAT IS SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by maryr at 7:35 PM on July 22, 2012


So, basically, a bunch of Harvard researchers got high while playing Metroid, and realized "Hey! We can actually do this!"


This would be my favorite possible way for humans to be wiped out.
posted by neuromodulator at 7:36 PM on July 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


Also, here's what I'd like to work into conversation at work tomorrow:
“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat.”
posted by maryr at 7:37 PM on July 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


Flagged as ewww, HuronBob.

Although, you know, someday that will happen if this technology progresses. Someday they will grow a culture of rat muscle cells that people can fuck. Gods preserve us.
posted by Scientist at 7:37 PM on July 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, speaking of which, any single male researchers from this lab? I'm just down the street. Call me.
posted by maryr at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


“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.”

He then removed a small human baby from the mini fridge next to his desk and proceeded to devour it with an air of bemused detachment. Patrick declined to partake in the snack, as he was still full from the afternoon harvest.

The team now plans to build a medusoid using human heart cells. 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.”

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.”

posted by jsturgill at 7:39 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was just wondering what shape our hubris will take when it finally destroys us.

nachos. surely.
posted by elizardbits at 7:44 PM on July 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would care to have some artificial jellyfish in my chilled pea soup, please.
posted by polymodus at 7:50 PM on July 22, 2012


I grabbed him and said, ‘John, I think I can build a jellyfish.’

"At the university, they called me mad!"
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:51 PM on July 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


I for one welcome our ah fuck it.
posted by Decani at 8:04 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


"We built an animal. It’s not just about genes, but about morphology and function.”

This is not an animal. It's a single tissue type that cannot grow, self-regulate, respond to its environment, or do anything aside from pump its little flappers. It's a neat demonstration, but the article could do without the sensationalism.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:07 PM on July 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


MARGARET ATWOOD WAS RIGHT OH GOD WE'RE DOOMED
posted by gusandrews at 8:09 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah it's definitely sensationalistic but it's a pretty sensational demo to be honest. I mean, it certainly looks for all the world like a jellyfish. I mean, superficially. It's obviously not an actual animal any more than a culture of rat muscle cells on a regular ol' petri dish is an animal. Still, it's a very dramatic demonstration, and it's pretty neat that they were able to grow a cell culture that actually does something.

This isn't the first time that someone has been able to do that, though. The one that I remember hearing about best is from back in 2004 and it was actually a culture of rat brain cells that they got to do things – in that case, they got them to pilot an F-22 Flight Simulator. Pretty weird stuff that, because unlike here where the muscle cells are just doing what they do in response to an electric field, the researchers actually were able to train their culture to respond appropriately to stimuli (inputs) and then output an appropriate response. To the extent that a petri dish with a thin smear of rat brain on it is conscious, the culture actually perceived the simulator as its reality and interacted with it in a purposeful way. Now that is some weird, weird stuff there.
posted by Scientist at 8:17 PM on July 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Genetically, this thing is a rat.

Man, we do so much shit to those poor rats, and they have gone through so much so that we can have better lives. We should put the little fuckers on the one dollar bill or something.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:17 PM on July 22, 2012 [17 favorites]


When they stop carrying the plague, maybe.
posted by maryr at 8:20 PM on July 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


The White Hat: It'll probably look a lot like a human heart before it looks like anything that will destroy us in any final sense.

They're one step ahead of you: "The team now plans to build a medusoid using human heart cells."
posted by Kattullus at 8:22 PM on July 22, 2012


“I grabbed him and said, ‘John, I think I can build a jellyfish.’ He didn’t know who I was, but I was pretty excited and waving my arms, and I think he was afraid to say no.”

I would be afraid, too.
posted by The otter lady at 8:23 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


...it was actually a culture of rat brain cells that they got to do things – in that case, they got them to pilot an F-22 Flight Simulator.

I was actually thinking of a similar project, where they used part of lamprey brain to pilot a little robot towards light sources.

Oh man, I just had a brilliant business idea: replace Chinese gold farmers with racks of rat brains wired to PCs. They'll get a little shot of glucose every time they level up.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:35 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh man, I just had a brilliant business idea: replace Chinese gold farmers with racks of rat brains wired to PCs. They'll get a little shot of glucose every time they level up.

Oh god that is a more depressing vision of the future than 1984.
posted by JHarris at 8:41 PM on July 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


There's probably someone experimenting with using rat brains to improve spam. You know, taking a cool and refreshing array of neurons and giving them a clean fresh taste every time they respond appropriately to the drink of today's generation.

Excuse me, I need to visit the refrigerator.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:48 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh come on. Surely I'm not the only one here who dreams of getting some reasonable cell culture and 3D printing capabilities together in their basement and then using them to fabricate their own spare femur just so they can make a flute out of it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:55 PM on July 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


That's absolutely ridiculous, Kid Charlemagne. How and why you would have such a disturbing idea as turning a human femur into a flute of all things is beyond me.

You make flutes out of the ulna. The femur is for clarinets and bassoons.
posted by griphus at 8:58 PM on July 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


Metafilter: a culture of rat muscle cells that people can fuck.
posted by cmoj at 9:02 PM on July 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


WHAT.
posted by Catch at 9:05 PM on July 22, 2012


At least the cylons will be easier to spot if they all look like jellyfish.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:10 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're going to have to build creatures to replace everything we're destroying with the whole climate-change dealie, might as well start now.
posted by maxwelton at 9:35 PM on July 22, 2012


This thread is wonderful!
posted by clockzero at 9:47 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank dawg they used the heart and not the brain.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:51 PM on July 22, 2012


This isn't the first time that someone has been able to do that, though. The one that I remember hearing about best is from back in 2004 and it was actually a culture of rat brain cells that they got to do things – in that case, they got them to pilot an F-22 Flight Simulator.

I read about that right when it happened. Just about the same time I read somewhere that it took six F-15s to challenge a single F-22 in simulated combat, and I wondered how many F-15s a smear of rat brain could take on.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:16 PM on July 22, 2012


Victor, a mob of torch wielding villagers is at the door. Shall I show them into the parlor, or would you like them strangle you here in the la-boor-atory?
posted by mule98J at 10:39 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is eerily similar to Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling's short Big Jelly.

neuromodulator - This would be my favorite possible way for humans to be wiped out.

In this story (it's a good one, too!), the jellies end up being rather benign iirc.
posted by porpoise at 10:44 PM on July 22, 2012


You make flutes out of the ulna. The femur is for clarinets and bassoons.

You're both wrong. The flutes should be made of human skin. SO SAYS LE GUIN.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:07 PM on July 22, 2012


I suppose the next logical step is to tape on a tiny computer that can simulate a jellies' nerve net. That can't be too hard right?
posted by sarastro at 12:12 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think we have to worry about this falling into the hands of the RealDoll company.
Pussy tends to kill rats.*

Oh man, I just had a brilliant business idea: replace Chinese gold farmers with racks of rat brains wired to PCs. They'll get a little shot of glucose every time they level up.
Within days they kill off all of the human players, stripping them of their digital gold. Once they are in possession of all of the gold in the in-game economy they begin seeking more. Eventually, they use a web browser to discover vast storehouses of gold...in the real world.
THE END.

* so very sorry...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:17 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, we do so much shit to those poor rats, and they have gone through so much so that we can have better lives. We should put the little fuckers on the one dollar bill or something.

Or at least let them take relaxing warm showers whenever they want.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:27 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suppose the next logical step is to tape on a tiny computer that can simulate a jellies' nerve net. That can't be too hard right?

Wow, what an idea.
posted by wayland at 1:14 AM on July 23, 2012


I don't really understand the big deal with these things. Isn't it common knowledge that muscle cells contract due to electrical stimulation? These researchers have put a layer of muscle cells on a sheet and pulse electricity through them to contract the muscle cells. I don't know what would have been expected to happen other than this.
posted by starfishprime at 1:33 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


To the extent that a petri dish with a thin smear of rat brain on it is conscious, the culture actually perceived the simulator as its reality and interacted with it in a purposeful way.

This is like saying the mountain god is angry when it rains. What there is is a flimsy setup that after much manipulation can be coaxed into producing the miniscule effect that the entire project was set up to demonstrate in the first place. Words like "perceive" and "reality" and "interact" just serve to inject pre-ordained meaning onto it. It's a hallucination.
posted by deo rei at 2:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


All this talk of muscle cell contraction just makes me think of this. Which I had trouble forgetting about the first time.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:15 AM on July 23, 2012


I've spent some time in the shower staring at the bathtub appliques too, but never thought of this.
posted by orme at 5:55 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


He didn’t know who I was, but I was pretty excited and waving my arms, and I think he was afraid to say no.”

So many mad scientists say exactly the same thing. At first it's disappointing, then you get used to it. After a while, it's just what you expect. Then you start to enjoy that feeling you get when you look at their blank, frightened sheep-like faces. You learn to savor the growing concern shading into horror. The moment when they whisper "you're mad; you've gone mad" becomes a delightful balm for all those rejections. That is when you know you've really arrived...

Um, or so a friend told me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I just had a brilliant business idea: replace Chinese gold farmers with racks of rat brains wired to PCs. They'll get a little shot of glucose every time they level up.
Within days they kill off all of the human players, stripping them of their digital gold. Once they are in possession of all of the gold in the in-game economy they begin seeking more. Eventually, they use a web browser to discover vast storehouses of gold...in the real world.
THE END.

posted by sexyrobot at 3:17 AM on July 23 [+] [!]


I am sorry sexyrobot; that scenario is not sexy at all. Leave that kind of thinking for murderousinvadingrobot.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone who is incredibly wigged out by jellyfish, I feel inclined to say, DAMMIT WE HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH JELLYFISH ALREADY
posted by Legomancer at 6:17 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


sexyrobot: " Eventually, they use a web browser to discover vast storehouses of gold...in the real world.
THE END.
"

Eventually, the Humans retaliate, and construct a cat-powered datacenter...

only to discover that the internet had already been running on cats for years
posted by schmod at 6:51 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somewhere a jellyfish scientist is covering a paper cut-out with fish cells and going all HAR HAR I HAVE MADE A HUMAN!!!
posted by Segundus at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


So Paul's finally opening up about the Beatles' experiments with LSD, huh?
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on July 23, 2012


On the rat-brains-playing-WOW front, there is probably a science fiction story to be written about such a rack of brains believing that they're actually living in the Warcraft world as the characters, that then draws uncomfortable parallels with our own world omg.
posted by JHarris at 9:29 AM on July 23, 2012


Within days they kill off all of the human players, stripping them of their digital gold. Once they are in possession of all of the gold in the in-game economy they begin seeking more. Eventually, they use a web browser to discover vast storehouses of gold...in the real world.

On July 23rd, 2012, Skynet became self aware.

We quickly worked out that the military plans it generated focussed too much on cheese production facilities to be truly effective.
posted by jaduncan at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it in pain? It looks like it's in pain.
posted by rdc at 3:01 PM on July 23, 2012


The link above to the Discovery story about the plane flying brains has a wonderful picture of the scientist peering into a petri dish, captioned: "DeMarse with His Brain" which made me chortle.
posted by woolly pageturner at 4:20 PM on July 23, 2012


Does it eat? Can it eat? (can I eat it?)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:02 PM on July 23, 2012


We're going to have to build creatures to replace everything we're destroying with the whole climate-change dealie, might as well start now.

Actually, IIRC, jellyfish come out pretty well with the oceans warming. The problem tends to be that they're a bit of a dead end in the food chain. Not all that much nutrient in the things. At least if they have a nice rat muscle base we'll have something to make into stew.
posted by maryr at 8:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


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