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Stanford Research Project Turns Common Jellyfish Into Bionic Sea Creatures

STANFORD (KPIX 5) -- Researchers at Stanford University have found new ways to explore the world's oceans with a cyborg creation that seems straight out of science fiction.

After nearly six years of research, Stanford scientists say they have been able to turn the common jellyfish into a bionic creature that is part animal and part machine. Bio-engineering scientist Nicole Xu is one of two scientists working on this project.

"I create bionic jellyfish by integrating microelectronics into these animals, which are moon jellyfish," explained Xu. "The idea is that moon jellyfish are incredibly energy efficient creatures. So if we incorporate them with a robotic system, then we can take advantage of these natural animals to create a low-power robot."

The device delivers a tiny electric charge to the jelly fish, stimulating it to swim three times faster than normal. The jellyfish has no brain, no central nervous system and no pain receptors, so Xu says the creature doesn't feel a thing from the shock.

But the question remains: why are scientists doing this?

"In the future, when we incorporate more maneuverability into the animals as well as adding different sensors like measuring PH or temperature or even sampling different parts of the water, we can send these animals into more environmentally sensitive areas of the ocean" said Xu.

In other words, once the researchers have a bit more control over the cyborg jellyfish, they hope to strap on sensors and send the jellyfish into remote parts of the ocean to gather data. Currently, scientists can only make the creatures go or stop with electrical stimulation.

The jellyfish can swim to depths of 2,000 feet.

"It really depends. They're pretty ubiquitous. You find then in a variety of places, including deep trenches," said Xu.

While Cal Tech sponsors the work, Stanford supplies the labs for this collaborative research project. More information on the project is available in a research article written by Xu and her partner for Science Advances.

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