Watching flies fly may not seem like high-tech science, but for researchers using the Western Hemispheres most brilliant X-rays, located at the Advanced Photon Source at the U.S. Department of Energys Argonne National Laboratory, it not only helps explain how insects fly but also may someday aid in understanding human heart function.
The researchers, from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Caltech and the University of Vermont, merged two distinct technologies, intense X-ray beams and electronic flight simulators, to study how insect muscles can generate such extraordinary levels of power. The results are published in the British journal Nature today.
Lead researcher Tom Irving of IIT said that the research has widespread implications. “Flying insects are among the most successful species in the animal kingdom. The ways in which the wing muscles in these insects generate enough power for flight is not completely understood. Insect muscles differ from animal muscles in that they do not need a nerve impulse for every contraction but instead are activated by stretch. The means by which these ‘stretch-activated muscles are turned on and off at high speed — one wing beat takes 5/1000th of a second — has been a mystery.”
Catherine Foster | EurekAlert!
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