The Loh Down On Science

Wormy Obstacle Course

Don't let obstacles stop you--use them to your advantage!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, that's what worms do.

Meet tiny Caenorhabditis elegans--C. elegans, for short.

And it is short. At only one millimeter, the species is a biology-lab favorite. Also a favorite of New York University's Applied Math Lab.

There, researchers want to understand how undulating snake-like locomotion allows organisms to move through complex environments--like soil, with all its differently-sized particles.

So they built C. elegans obstacle courses: shallow, liquid-filled pools with evenly spaced silicone pillars as obstacles. The only difference between pools? The pillar spacing. Plus, one pool had no pillars.

When they put the worms in ... Surprise! The worms moved faster through pools with obstacles than pools without them!

Turns out the critters were picking up momentum by pushing off the pillars! Speed with pillars varied slightly. It was fastest when spacing was close enough that the worms' front end could curve partway around a pillar before its tail propelled it forward to the next pillar.

You might almost call the move "elegans." C?



The Loh Down on Science, online, at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

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