Scientists created cyborgs jellyfishes, placing microelectronic prosthesis which control swim speed of these animals.
Source: Scientific American
The scientists built a microelectronic “prosthesis” or “swim controller” from off-the-shelf parts. They fastened it to the underside of a saucer-size moon jellyfish with a short wooden pin, then ran two electrodes from the device to the sides of the creature’s bell. When active, the prosthesis stimulated the jellyfish’s muscles with a regular electronic pulse. To minimize the impact on the animal, the researchers fit the electronics inside a two-centimeter-wide cylindrical case, adding cork floats and stainless-steel weights to keep the system neutrally buoyant. The scientists tested the device on six moon jellyfish in a tank and found it could make the animals swim at nearly three times their natural pace. They maintained their typical speed when wearing an inactive swim controller. The results were published in Science Advances on Wednesday.
This is a work of researchers from California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. In this animation in gif, you can see that cyborgs jellyfishes can swim against the water flux while other are carried away.
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Comparing jellyfishes speed with and without swim controller activated.
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Although the device only affected the jellyfish’s speed, the researchers plan to add steering and sensing abilities to later versions. “With some relatively simple modifications, we think it’s possible to get this to be able to be steered—so to tell your animal, ‘Take a left turn here, take a 30-degree turn there, make a U-turn at this other location,’” says study co-author John Dabiri, a mechanical engineer at Caltech. Once they have made that modification, Dabiri and his co-author Nicole W. Xu, a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, could add sensors to the device. “Ultimately,” Dabiri says, “the idea is that as [the jellyfish] are on that path, they would record the ocean temperature, salinity, pH—all of the variables that we’re concerned about when we try to quantify current and future ocean health and climate change.” He adds that researchers might one day be able to use such cyborgs to map an area, for example, collecting data until their swim controllers made them return to the surface.
Measure ocean’s variables can help to understand climatic phenomena and improve maritime activities. Using cyborg jellyfishes can be a cheaper alternative than bigger probes.
Turning animals into living sensors obviously raises ethical questions. Dabiri notes, however, that moon jellyfish lack a brain, a central nervous system and the type of pain receptors that would make a mammal, for example, react to having a wooden pin thrust through its body tissues. This species has been known to produce mucus when stressed, but the researchers say they monitored their subjects and found no sign of this response. They also say the jellyfish healed within days and returned to functioning as usual after the experiment ended and the prosthesis was removed.