Bats are masters of flight in the night sky, capable of steep nosedives and sharp turns that put our best aircrafts to shame. Although the role of echolocation in bats' impressive midair maneuvering has been extensively studied, the contribution of touch has been largely overlooked.
A study published April 30 in Cell Reports shows, for the first time, that a unique array of sensory receptors in the wing provides feedback to a bat during flight. The findings also suggest that neurons in the bat brain respond to incoming airflow and touch signals, triggering rapid adjustments in wing position to optimize flight control.
"This study provides evidence that the sense of touch plays a key role in the evolution of powered flight in mammals," says co-senior study author Ellen Lumpkin, a Columbia University associate professor of dermatology and physiology and cellular biophysics.
"This research also lays the groundwork for understanding what sensory information bats use to perform such remarkable feats when flying through the air and catching insects. Humans cannot currently build aircrafts that match the agility of bats, so a better grasp of these processes could inspire new aircraft design and new sensors for monitoring airflow."
Bats must rapidly integrate different types of sensory information to catch insects and avoid obstacles while flying. The contribution of hearing and vision to bat flight is well established, but the role of touch has received little attention since the discovery of echolocation.
Recently, co-senior study author Cynthia Moss and co-author Susanne Sterbing-D'Angelo of The Johns Hopkins University discovered that microscopic wing hairs stimulated by airflow, are critical for flight behaviors such as turning and controlling speed. But until now, it was not known how bats use tactile feedback from their wings to control flight behaviors.
In the new study, the Lumpkin and Moss labs analyzed, for the first time, the distribution of different sensory receptors in the wing and the organization of the wing skin's connections to the nervous system. Compared to other mammalian limbs, the bat wing has a unique distribution of hair follicles and touch-sensitive receptors, and the spatial pattern of these receptors suggests that different parts of the wing are equipped to send different types of sensory information to the brain.
"While sensory cells located between the "fingers" could respond to skin stretch and changes in wind direction, another set of receptors associated with hairs could be specialized for detecting turbulent airflow during flight," says Sterbing-D'Angelo, who also holds an appointment at the University of Maryland.
Moreover, bat wings have a distinct sensory circuitry in comparison to other mammalian forelimbs. Sensory neurons on the wing send projections to a broader and lower section of the spinal cord, including much of the thoracic region. In other mammals, this region of the spinal cord usually receives signals from the trunk rather than the forelimbs. This unusual circuitry reflects the motley roots of the bat wing, which arises from the fusion of the forelimb, trunk, and hindlimb during embryonic development.
"This is important because it gives us insight into how evolutionary processes incorporate new body parts into the nervous system," says first author Kara Marshall of Columbia University. "Future studies are needed to determine whether these organizational principles of the sensory circuitry of the wing are conserved among flying mammals."
The researchers also found that neurons in the brain responded when the wing was either stimulated by air puffs or touched with a thin filament, suggesting that airflow and tactile stimulation activate common neural pathways.
"Our next steps will be following the sensory circuits in the wings all the way from the skin to the brain. In this study, we have identified individual components of these circuits, but next we would like to see how they are connected in the central nervous system," Moss says. "An even bigger goal will be to understand how the bat integrates sensory information from the many receptors in the wing to create smooth, nimble flight."
The paper is titled, "Somatosensory Substrates of Flight Control in Bats." The authors are Ellen A. Lumpkin, Kara L. Marshall, Mohit Chadha, Laura A. deSouza (CUMC); Susanne J. Sterbing-D'Angelo, Cynthia F. Moss (Johns Hopkins University).
The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01NS073119), Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA95501210109), and other sources listed in the paper.
The other authors declare no financial or other conflicts of interest.
Lucky Tran | EurekAlert!
Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections
25.09.2017 | University of Maryland
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
25.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.09.2017 | Health and Medicine
25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy