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Nina In New York: Scientist Creates Robo-Jelly-Rat-Fish, Isn’t Evil

A bioengineered jellyfish mimic swims in ocean-like saltwater. Researchers reported the creation of these mimic July 22, 2012 in the journal Nature Biotechnology (credit: livescience.com)

A bioengineered jellyfish mimic swims in ocean-like saltwater. Researchers reported the creation of these mimic July 22, 2012 in the journal Nature Biotechnology (credit: livescience.com)

Summer Fun

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
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By Nina Pajak

So, did you hear the one about the rat who walks into a genetics lab? He’s a jellyfish now.

Seriously! That’s not a really terrible, absurdist joke. It’s science.

This week, scientists announced their successful experiment in which they took muscle tissue from a rat and a rubbery material and created a living, functioning, “artificial jellyfish.” It floats, it undulates, it does things that jellyfish do. Like, you know. Undulating.

As reported in Nature: “’Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,’ says Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the work.”

At first this struck me as incredible, but incredibly disturbing. Why does the world need more jellyfish? Why not a dolphin or a baby elephant or one of those teeny weeny little teacup pigs? Jellyfish are like the mosquitoes of the sea. They come in a seemingly endless supply, they sting and pester and sometimes truly cause damage, and they have absolutely nothing of value to say for themselves whatsoever. They contribute nothing, just take, take, zap, zap. Totally vapid, empty, pulsating blobbies. Prettier than a mosquito, okay, but not when you find them all dead and glutinous on the beach. Bleah. I mean, I’m no great fan of rats, but I’m not sure that little fellow ever did anything to deserve being taken apart and put back together to become some sort of synthetic Frankenfish. Actually, they’re calling it a Medusoid, but I wish someone had consulted me.

But I digress.

It turns out, aside from the pretty unbelievably cool factor and hideously complex implications which stem from humans successfully synthesizing a biological organism, Dr. Moreau’s jellyrat has a function. A function no real jellyfish has ever been able to claim. The Medusoid was created as a means of further studying the human heart. It moves in a way that the heart moves, responds to stimuli similarly, and can hopefully be used in testing the effectiveness of various medical treatments.

More From CBSNews: Artificial ‘Jellyfish’ Built Out Of Rat Cells And Silicone

“You’ve got a heart drug?” Parker told Nature. “You let me put it on my jellyfish, and I’ll tell you if it can improve the pumping.”

And with that, Parker not only became the man who built a sea creature, but he invented the best and potentially most iron-clad pick-up line for single scientists everywhere. Bravo, sir.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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