It has already been pointed out elsewhere that the “jellyfish” produced from rat heart tissue is not really much of one, so Brian Thomas’ article What Does It Take to Make a Jellyfish? is really superfluous.
Many jellyfish are transparent, and they have seemingly simple movements and few visible interacting parts. They should, therefore, be easy to synthesize with man-made parts, but that’s not what bioengineers discovered when they recently built a jellyfish mimic from rat heart cells attached to a silicone frame.
Whatever makes him think they should be “easy to synthesize”? Those pieces of information he gives really aren’t enough to call it. Or that the full thing was even originally attempted, before the researchers settled for this supposed cop-out. (Don’t get me wrong – this is pretty amazing. It’s just no jellyfish.)
A team of Unites States collaborators produced a structure that, when energized by an external electrical shock, flexed and moved like a jellyfish in a water tank. Nature News posted a video showing their construct in motion.
You can see that video above, while the Nature News article is here.
Just what hurdles did the research team overcome in order to achieve their modest results?
The bioengineers used “a systematic design strategy to reverse engineer a muscular pump,” according to the technical report in Nature Biotechnology. They also wrote, “The constructs, termed ‘medusoids,’ were designed with computer simulations and experiments to match key determinants of jellyfish propulsion and feeding performance by quantitatively mimicking structural design, stroke kinematics and animal-fluid interactions.”
Those quotes do not really answer the question posed, which may have to do with the mismatch between the story Thomas wants to tell and what was actually done and attempted. The paper is here, but is not open access.
Jellyfish may not be so simple after all.
Even though it was highly-engineered, the man-made construct is far inferior to the more excellently designed actual jellyfish. ABC News wrote, “their artificial jellyfish, for instance, is far simpler than a real one. A real one can steer through the water; Medusoid could only go straight.” And perhaps no human engineer will ever devise a jellyfish construct that can repair and reproduce itself.
Reproduction is key here. You may have noticed that we are on a similar subject here to Paley’s watch, but approaching it from the other direction. Paley’s watch tries to draw parallels between human designs and nature, but one of its key flaws is that basically nothing we have ever built – at least in the physical world, computer viruses are another matter – can properly reproduce itself. Thomas concludes his article:
The implication is clear. Whoever designed real jellyfish was much smarter than ordinary people.
This apparently anti-Paley sentiment – that nature is far superior, and thus qualitatively different, to what humans create – has previously been seen in a Jerry Bergman A&F article discussed in Who Needs Paley Anyway? Now, if we could get these medusoids to reproduce they would also probably be able to evolve (assuming hereditary is part of the equation, which is practically a given), we can start talking. Because then we would see that their path to a much more convincing organism is not that that any designer would take, and with that we would also see how silly it is to think that you could easily design an organism from the ground up. The implication would only be “clear” about the conclusion that Thomas makes if the premise that there is a designer were true. It certainly doesn’t prove that there was (that would be circular reasoning after all, and we can’t have that).