A disappearing act – one of the world’s fastest biological springs: Spasmonemes

In this post, I really don’t want you to blink. I mean it – since I will be talking about something so fast; if you blink.. you will miss it. Actually, if I want to be accurate – even if you don’t blink; you will still miss it. On average, a human eye blinks in around 1/4 of a second (pull out your iphone6 and ask a friend to blink). That’s 250milli-second and for today’s post, that’s long. Because I want to talk about “Spasmonemes”

During my last trip in Panama, while collecting mosquito insects (see my previous post: http://microcosmos.foldscope.com/2015/01/14/how-mosquito-larvae-breathe-underwater/) I found something strange. Attached right next to the gills of a mosquito larvae (culex) was a wine glass structure which is most likely belongs to a ciliate Family: Vorticellidae. It’s either a colonial or a wild Vorticella. I had heard about them in textbooks; but to stumble upon something you are not looking for, is pure joy. That’s why you should repeat experiments you read about..

Watch a quick video below that describes some of the strange dynamics of this miniature springs – one of the fastest spring in biology. I captured this in the field with my Foldscope and iphone5.

When compared to a blink, which was 250 milli second, a vorticella can contract its stalk in less than 5 milli second. Now, that’s fast. Some of the fastest recorded velocity in vorticella are upward of 10cm/sec for an object that is only a 100 micron in size. Next; I will find them again and repeat this with a borrowed iphone6 camera at high speed.

Enjoy the video here:

Vorticella are fascinating in so many ways. Many scientific mysteries remain in terms of how such a powerful biological motor work; and surprisingly the whole mechanism does not directly use ATP (currency of biological energy conversion). I am fascinated by them – since some of the proposed hypothesis consider a balance between osmotic and “entropic” forces (one of my favorite force in the whole universe). It’s also never been reconstituted in the lab (a fancy word for never being re-made by mixing together basic biological parts) which gets me even more excited.

1. I took a drop of water with a trapped mosquito larvae in a glass slide with small spacer made out of double sided tape – just to provide some space. The larvae was alive through the time I was imaging.

2. As you can notice in the video, I am not changing the focus on foldscope too much while imaging this live. For precise things where I want to choose a fixed focus; I rest both the cellphone and my foldscope on the table. Although, I will make a separate post on making fixed focus imaging with Foldscope, I can describe it briefly here. I use a small matchbox size object to rest the iPhone. Second I put a few sheets of paper (say 20 or 30 sheets) under the Foldscope (touching the battery hanging down while still attached with the magnetic couplers to the iPhone. I change the number of sheets I use to get a focus that I don’t have to modulate – great when I am imaging live objects.

3. Some people asked, how I got the blue color in the video above. I played around with a slight mis-alignment of the LED. I will make another post for the same.

Go out and find these guys in your back yards. It’s very powerful to be holding in your hand, that takes the claim of being amongst the fastest biological mechanisms. But, as many people have said it before; it’s only because you haven’t found something faster just as yet. Who knows what you will stumble upon!!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Niramay Gogate says:

    Give me more videos like this . I am hungry for that.

  2. Satish says:

    Thanks, Sir!!! For nice information
    The Vorticella we observed on mosquito larvae was appearing different than you recorded. Your recorded Vorticella looking gelly like smooth, What we observed are of different shape and more transparent.
    Our study found their infestation to mosquito larval results in mortality.
    They may be various type parasitic, commensal and symbiotic.

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