23 July 2012

'We took apart a rat and rebuilt it as a jellyfish'

We took a jellyfish, and did a bunch of studies to understand how it activates its muscles. We studied its propulsion and we made a map of where every single cell was. We used a software programme that we had developed a few years ago, borrowed from law enforcement agencies for doing quantitative analysis of fingerprints, and we used it to analyse the protein networks inside the cells.

We found something very interesting right away: the electrical signals that the jellyfish uses to coordinate its pumping are exactly like that of the heart. In the heart, the action potential [electrical signal that travels along nerves – Ed] propagates as a wave through cardiac muscle. That’s how you get this nice, smooth contraction. The activation has to spread like when you drop a pebble in water. The same thing happens in the jellyfish, and I don’t think that’s by accident. My bet is that to get a muscular pump, the electrical activity has got to spread as a wavefront.

After we had the map of where every cell was, we took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.
-- Kit Parker in an interview with Ed Yong.  His team also hope to reverse-engineer other marine life forms. “We’ve got a whole tank of stuff in there, and an octopus on order.”

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