Synthetic Stingrays and Ditto: Cells gone wild

I found this super cool article today on NPR.com (SEIZURE WARNING on the video they used to demonstrate). It came out last week, but since my life has been super busy, I was just as excited to find it today while deciding what to post! It covers a “Synthetic Stingray”, a very neat project that utilizes mouse cells to develop a working, reactive set of muscles for a gold and silicone skeletal system. Their end goal, of course, is to build a heart. But, big goals take tiny steps. (Featured Image: Header of the stingray from NPR/ScienceMag)

So, how did they do this?? Cells are cells, right? They just… build things.

What these researchers did was they used cultured mouse heart cells- cardiomyocites. (Cardio: heart,  myocites: muscle) All cardiac cells/ heart muscle cells/ cardiomyocites are really specialized muscle cells that are sensitive to electricity. Flash back to all the cartoons and medical shows that use AEDs or “Crash Carts” when a character seems to have a heart attack- depending on the problem, that electricity can help a patient’s heart reset the rhythm of the beat; this rhythm is actually the way the entire heart moves to pump blood through the body.

After taking these cells from a mouse, they ensured that these heart cells (cardiomyocites) would respond and contract when a light was shone on them;  they managed to do this through a series of alterations to the cell’s DNA so that an individual cell could build and equip itself with the right machinery. Sound familiar?

132Ditto.png

Above: everyone’s favorite breeding Pokemon, Ditto

Ditto are plausibly the result of a failed Mew experiment; cells that were meant to build themselves with the right machinery to become a Mew. Now, of course, they’re a trainer’s best bet for breeding a Miltank or a Tauros. BUT! What we can infer from Ditto’s transformations and ability to breed is that Ditto is probably made out of stem cells.

Oh man, that’s a loaded word. 

It’s true that there is a lot of controversy around stem cells in the ethical stance, but what I’m highlighting about stem cells is their ability to turn into different categories of cells. Skin, Brain, or Heart cells are just examples of the kinds of cells in your own body (and plausibly Pokemon, as it’s been noted they have cells). Totipotent stem cells have the potential to totally become any cell in an organism. Compared to pleuripotent stem cells and multipotent stem cells, which can only form into a category of cell in varying degrees of specificity, totipotent stem cells have the potential to form an entire animal. Ditto has the ability to mimic Pokemon down to the very moves they’re using against it– that’s pretty totipotent.

So, these researchers were able to take a skeleton made of gold and silicone, alter a cell to react to light instead of straight electricity, and have it move with the precision of a stingray. That’s a seriously neat way to use the potential of cells in our own world, even if we can’t have our own Ditto. (Sidenote: anyone find one in Pokemon GO yet?)


Author does not claim ownership of Pokemon or Ditto. Please see website statement on the front page. The article cited is linked at the top of the page. There is a very flashy video!! Please be careful. 🙂

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