“Using muscle-powered swimming robots to explore how muscles control animal movement”
A talk by Chris Richards, PhD, OC ’98
Rowland Institute at Harvard
A poet once wrote “A frog is a frog is a frog.” Anatomists agreed, linking frogs’ unique skeleton with their great jumping ability. Meanwhile, physiologists probed for clues explaining frogs’ muscular power. Yet, how frogs swim and jump as well as they do remains a mystery because muscle physiology and skeletal anatomy have been treated as isolated issues. More likely, the interactions of muscles and bones is most crucial. For example, an evolutionary change in bone length may necessitate a complimentary change in muscle speed and strength as the leverage also changes. Currently, we cannot easily manipulate bone shape and/or muscle properties to test our predictions in live animals. My lab addresses this issue using swimming robotic models controlled by living muscle tissue extracted from frogs. We manipulate the robotic model’s anatomy to test how limb shape and flexibility influences muscle function and swimming speed. Findings suggest that an animal possessing powerful muscles can only harness its full ‘horsepower’ if the bone and tendon geometry are matched to the muscle properties. Thus we propose that although “a frog is a frog...”, subtle differences in musculoskeletal properties may drive frogs’ behavioral diversity.
Lab website: http://www.rowland.harvard.edu/rjf/richards/
Twitter: @PropPhysiology (https://twitter.com/PropPhysiology)
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