Fish offer lesson in movement

TULANE (US) — A computational model of a swimming fish offers important insight into the interaction of internal and external forces on locomotion.

Researchers simulated how a fish’s flexible body bends, depending on both the forces from the fluid moving around it and the muscles at work inside.

Understanding these interactions may help scientists design medical prosthetics for humans that work with the body¹s natural mechanics, rather than against them.

The work is published in the Oct. 18 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It is incredibly rewarding to work with biologists who embrace scientific computing as an essential facet of research, and to see that our simulations can address fundamental questions in physiology,” says Lisa Fauci, professor of mathematics at Tulane University.

Previous studies examined body mechanics separately from fluid mechanics, but this is the first time anyone has put together a computational framework to simulate the process for large, fast animals like fish, says Eric D. Tytell, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland.

Understanding the principles of animal movement could help to design and inspire engineered systems, including robots and medical prosthetics, the researchers say.

This simulation was developed for the lamprey, a primitive vertebrate whose nervous system is being used as a model to develop prosthetic devices for people with spinal cord injuries.

Chia-yu Hsu, a postdoctoral researcher at Tulane, and Tytell performed simulations with different values for various body and fluid properties, demonstrating that matching mechanical properties of future prosthetic devices to the body¹s natural mechanics will be crucial.

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