Stanford scientist creates bionic jellyfish that could aid in future research
PALO ALTO, Calif. - A researcher at Stanford University has discovered a way to merge an animal with electronics.
“I’ve created a bionic jellyfish but integrating electronics into live animals,” said Nicole Xu.
Using a moon jellyfish, the bioengineering Ph.D. candidate created something that is part animal and part machine, which she can control in a research project that she has been working on for the last six years.
“We can make them swim up to three times faster and it only increases their metabolic energy two times, so this is more energy-efficient than we were expecting,” Xu told KTVU from her lab on the Stanford campus Wednesday.
She calls the device that she created a swim controller. It sends a signal to electrodes, similar to a machine used by chiropractors to stimulate muscles, that temporarily attached to the inside of the jellyfish.
Xu envisions a future where jellyfish outfitted with her device can study the effects of climate change and descend to depths of the ocean where our technology cannot yet take us.
Naturally, one must ask themselves how attaching electronics to a jellyfish affects the animal such as injury, temporary or permanent.
“Once we remove the swim controller from the animal, they seem to be doing completely fine,” Xu said. “They’re still able to feed, to reproduce, to swim around and any tissue damage pretty fast, within a couple of days.”
It’s caught the attention of Kakani Katija, principal engineer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
“What they are able to demonstrate is that you can make some improvements on performance, let’s say swimming in this case by making slight modifications to their behavior so it has really important implications,” said Katija.
Xu (Shu) says that right now, her device can only make the jellyfish speed-up in one direction.
Next, she wants the device to be able to tell the jellyfish which direction to travel.