A gentle grip on gelatinous creatures


Jellyfish are about 95% water, making them some of the most diaphanous, delicate animals on the planet. But the remaining 5% of them have yielded important scientific discoveries, like green fluorescent protein (GFP) that is now used extensively by scientists to study gene expression, and life-cycle reversal that could hold the keys to combating aging. Jellyfish may very well harbor other, potentially life-changing secrets, but the difficulty of collecting them has severely limited the study of such "forgotten fauna." The sampling tools available to marine biologists on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were largely developed for the marine oil and gas industries, and are much better-suited to grasping and manipulating rocks and heavy equipment than jellies, often shredding them to pieces in attempts to capture them. Now, a new technology developed by researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Baruch College at CUNY offers a novel solution to that problem in the form of an ultra-soft, underwater gripper that uses hydraulic pressure to gently but firmly wrap its fettuccini-like fingers around a single jellyfish, then release it without causing harm.

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