Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Scientist TV - Obstacles help worm speed through water maze

Think twice before challenging a nematode to an obstacle course. The nimble microscopic worms can race through a maze of pegs at nine times their free-swimming speed.
Michael Shelley and Jun Zhang from New York University and colleagues let worms loose in water mazes where the spacing of pegs varied. Then they created mechanical simulations of a worm's motion, using the same layout of obstacles, which were compared to the real-life behaviour.
The team found that a worm's strokes closely resembled those in the models. When the amplitude of a wiggle closely matched the spacing in the maze, a worm would be propelled faster as it bumped into obstacles. Wider spacing would cause a worm to swim slower despite a faster wiggle rate.
The findings suggest that physical forces, and not just sensory input, play a significant role in helping a worm navigate. The team will now be testing the worms in complex obstacle courses that are more similar to the sediment in their natural environment.
The work could provide insight into the wiggly motion of sperm and the lifecycle of malaria.
If you enjoyed this video, see the first movie of a mouse thinking or check out a goose flying upside down

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