Tiny Microscopic Organisms Are The Fastest Beasts On Earth

Posted: Aug 11 2018, 9:23am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Tiny Microscopic Organisms are the Fastest Beasts on Earth
Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech

The creature can reduce its body length by more than 60 percent in a few milliseconds.

When people think of fastest creature on Earth, cheetah, falcon or even sailfish come to mind. But it’s not quite true. According to a new study, a tiny single-celled protozoan called Spirostomum ambiguum holds the distinction of being the world’s fastest creature.

Spirostomum ambiguum are commonly found in lakes and ponds and achieve blazing-fast speed while contracting their worm-like body. When startled, the creature can reduce the length of its body by more than 60 percent in just a few milliseconds. By comparison, cheetahs can clock speeds well in excess of 62 mph while falcons can reach speeds of over 250 mph during dives. But researchers are not sure how single-celled Spirostomum move that fast, despite the fact that they don’t have muscles of larger animals.

"As engineers, we like to look at how nature has handled important challenges. We are always thinking about how to make these tiny things that we see zipping around in nature. If we can understand how they work, maybe the information can cross over to fill the gap for small robots that can move fast with little energy use.” Professor Saad Bhamla from Georgia Institute of Technology said in a statement.

Researchers already know that largest animals are not the fastest ones and strength alone does not determine top velocity. Humans and other large animals accelerate by drawing available energy stored in muscle tissue. Their muscles rely on the activity of actin and myosin proteins. Spirostomum, on the other hand, move using tiny hairs called cilia and does it without damaging their fragile internal structures.

"If they had only the actin and myosin proteins that make up our muscles, they couldn't generate enough force to actually move that fast. The smaller they are, the faster they go – up to 200 meters per second squared. That's really off the charts,” said Bhamla.

"We want to understand how they are not damaged by the rapid compression, because the internal pressures must increase rapidly. This may advance our understanding of how truly robust biological materials are under extreme stresses and pressures. "

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