The results could be a deeper understanding of how to manage insects, with the potential to lead to advances in agricultural, commercial and residential pest control. In addition, this first engineering study of the internal fluid flows of insects, creatures that have evolved efficiently over millions of years, may provide engineers and scientists with new ideas for how to build better artificial tissues and organs, and for the design of new medically implantable microdevices.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) calls this work part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation. NSF has agreed to support this effort, spearheaded by Jake Socha, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics (ESM) at Virginia Tech, for the next four years with a $2 million award. http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0938047
Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) has also agreed to support this research as a “Grand Challenge” project for the next three years with an award of $298,466.
Working with Socha is Jon Harrison, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, and three additional investigators from Virginia Tech: Raffaella DeVita and Anne Staples, assistant professors of ESM, and Rafael Davalos, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. ESM’s Ishwar Puri, Shane Ross, and Mark Stremler, as well as electrical engineer Masoud Agah and mechanical engineer Pavlos Vlachlos, all of Virginia Tech, round out the team of investigators.
Engineers like to talk about the mechanics and dynamics of flow, and they have studied this field for decades. But Socha and his team want to apply their knowledge of how insects manage fluid flows at the microscopic level for bioengineering purposes. And to do so, they envision harnessing “the agility, dynamic range, low power requirements, self-contained nature, and efficiency of the flows on specific insects’ respiratory and circulatory systems to revolutionize the design of microfluidic systems,” the team explained.
Insects are often considered to be the most successful group of living species in Earth’s history. Unlike mammals, insects breathe by transporting oxygen directly to tissues without the help of a circulatory system. “Their complex air-filled tracheal network delivers oxygen from the environment directly to the tissues, and conversely transports carbon dioxide from the tissues directly to the environment,” Socha said.
In previous research, Socha and colleagues opened a new window into the inner workings of insects by using synchrotron x-ray imaging to enable the direct visualization of internal microstructures in living animals. According to Socha, “a key finding was a new form of convective respiration termed ‘rhythmic tracheal compression’ in which parts of the animal’s tracheal system collapse and reinflate on the order of 10 to 20 times per minute.”
Although scientists do not yet know exactly why some insects use this respiration process, it could be that “compressions function to target airflow to specific internal tissues, such as the heads of legs, and to keep oxygen partial pressures high for sudden fast movements like escape or for the regulation of acids and bases within their bodies,” Socha said.
This knowledge is leading the team of researchers to ask if the pumping of the insect tracheal system can serve as a bio-inspiration for novel engineered systems such as implantable microdevices and for tissue engineering.
Similarly, the insects’ circulatory system is profoundly different from mammals. The insect system consists of a simple tube, the dorsal vessel that runs the length of the body, and pushes the insect’s blood into the open body cavity. By contrast, the flow of fluid in mammals occurs in a closed system of tubes, produced by pressure pulsations from the heart.
“Insects pump blood through the heart toward the head, and in some species, reverse the flow toward the abdomen. In this open system, once the blood exits the heart or aorta, it courses around tissues and organs to every part of the insect’s body, including the tips of the legs, and somehow returns to the heart,” Socha said.
Socha explained why they selected three specific insects to study. They chose the ground beetle since it exhibits rhythmic tracheal compression, the grasshopper because its heart is large and therefore relatively easy to image, and the larvae, pupae, and adults of the silk worm moth. The latter are particularly interesting to the researchers because the larvae and pupae appear to deliver gases primarily by diffusion, whereas the adults have air sacs and exhibit abdominal pumping and convective ventilation.
The researchers also have an educational component as part of the NSF grant. Socha has already appeared on the National Geographic and History channels for his work with flying snakes and insects, and National Geographic has expressed interest in this new endeavor. Socha and his colleagues will also work with primary and secondary school teachers in under-resourced classrooms to develop novel replacement lessons that integrate biology and engineering.
Prior to entering graduate school, Socha joined the national Teach for America program and worked as a high school teacher in Centerville, Louisiana. As the only science teacher in a small rural school at the time, he taught all of the middle and high school’s science courses.
Lynn Nystrom | Newswise Science News
Further reports about: > ESM > Jewel Beetles > NSF > Science TV > Tissue > abdominal pumping > bio-inspiration > convective ventilation > grasshoppers > insects’ circulatory system > microfluidic system > regulation of acids > rhythmic tracheal compression > silk moths > silk worm > synchrotron x-ray imaging
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
05.12.2016 | Life Sciences