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X-Ray Beams And Fruit Fly 'Flight Simulator' Aid Scientists' View Of Muscle Power

What is the connection between a fly’s aerodynamic skill and human heart function? Using the nation’s most brilliant X-rays, located at the Advanced Photon Source at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, a cardiac molecular motors expert from the University of Vermont (UVM) and colleagues from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Caltech performed research to answer that and other questions.

The research team, including David Maughan, Ph.D., research professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at the UVM College of Medicine, published their results in a report in the Jan. 20 issue of the British journal Nature.

To conduct their research, Maughan and his IIT and Caltech colleagues merged extremely bright X-ray beams and a “virtual-reality flight simulator?for flies, designed by Michael Dickinson of Caltech, to probe the muscles in a flying fruit fly and examine how it generates the extraordinary levels of power that result in flight.

The intense X-rays allowed the researchers to identify changes in the crystal-like arrangement of molecules responsible for generating the rapid contractions of the fly’s muscle with a resolution of 6/10,000th of a second. The flight simulator, which fools a tethered fly into thinking it is flying freely through the air, is necessary to produce a stable pattern of wing motion and enabled the team to capture X-ray images at different stages of muscle contraction. By combining the technologies, the researchers could reconstruct a ‘movie?of the molecular changes in the powerful muscles as they lengthen and shorten to drive the wings back and forth 200 times each second.

“At the molecular level, the insect’s flight muscle and a human heart are remarkably similar,?Maughan said. “We biologists have always been amazed by how hard these muscles work. Now we have taken advantage of the fruit fly’s small size and shone light right through the whole animal, illuminating the workin
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Source:University Of Vermont


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