Kit Parker, a bioengineer at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, and his Science lab have created a synthetic stingray whose movements are guided by light.

Synthetic stingray composed of living cells.

The stingray is composed of living muscle cells that enable it to move through water. The living muscle cells are composed of approximately 200,000 muscle cells called cardiomyocytes taken from the heart of a rat.  Parker claims that the knowledge and methods from his experiment will enable scientists to create an artificial heart in the future because of the similarities between the stingray and the heart in their ability to both respond immediately to changes in the surrounding environment such as pressure.

Parker endeavored to achieve this response-immediacy in the synthetic stingray he created. Parker’s lab had previously created a synthetic jellyfish.

Synthetic stingray combines living and synthetic material.

The synthetic stingray has a skeleton made of gold, has a clear body composed of silicone, and approximately 0.90 inches in diameter - slightly smaller than a quarter. The body imitates the shape of a real stingray. By having genetically altered the muscle cells, the artificial stingray follows blue lights. Reacting to light, the stingray will propel itself in a similar fashion to the fin movements of an actual ray. Parker’s stingray can be controlled depending on the frequency of the light. The synthetic stingray replicates the flowing, wave-like movement of a living stingray.

Top Videos of the Day

Synthetic stingray has implications for creating improved artificial hearts

Parker claims that his artificial stingray is a biological life-form but would not go so far as to call it an organism because of its inability to reproduce itself and its inability to grow. While some of the science achieved from Parker’s stingray can aid roboticists who are experimenting with tissue structures, Parker’s main goal is to gain greater insight into the science of cardiomyocytes so that medical biologists can create improved synthetic hearts in the future.

Parker’s sting-ray experiments demonstrate how far bioengineers have come along in creating synthetic life-forms that achieve some of the conditions of actual living organisms. The first synthetic life-form was created  in 2010 by Craig Venter and his lab, when he created a synthetic bacterial genome based on a bacterium that causes mastitis in goats  and used this newly created genetic material to incorporate it into a cell.