Houshuo Jiang, an associate scientist at WHOI and collaborator on this project, says their ultimate goal is to understand the limpet's role in shaping the marine ecosystem and environment and climate in general.
With support from the National Science Foundation Biological Oceanography program, Jiang built a customized, vertically oriented optical system that can magnify and record high-speed, high-resolution video of microorganisms freely swimming in a vessel of seawater at 2,000 frames per second.
"Much more can be observed in great detail using this setup than observing under a microscope," Jiang says.
Traditionally, scientists have recorded how fast larvae beat their cilia by placing a piece of transparency on a computer screen and tracing and counting the cilia by hand.
"We developed a method to do the same thing, but digitally," Chan says.
In the high-resolution video, the cilia alter from bright to dark as they beat up and down. Chan collected the bright to dark ratio and calculated for variation in order to time how fast and frequently a larva beat its cilia.
"This is a way to apply a new technique to address this old problem," she says.
She also measured the length of each larva's shell, the area of the velar lobes, and the distance between the center of the lobe and the center of the shell in order to calculate velar lobe orientation. She recorded and observed the swimming larvae from when they were two days old to 19 days old.
She found that within a single day, the larvae could vary their speed from swimming one body length per second to four body lengths per second.
"What this means is they have a lot of control over how fast they swim," Chan says. And how they swim can determine where they may go.
"These results show the flexibility that these little animals have, which likely makes them so successful," Padilla says.
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution