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The secrets of the lowly ground beetle could lead to better tissue engineering
Date:9/3/2009

, round out the team of investigators.

Engineers like to talk about the mechanics and dynamics of flow, and they have studied this field for decades. But Socha and his team want to apply their knowledge of how insects manage fluid flows at the microscopic level for bioengineering purposes. And to do so, they envision harnessing "the agility, dynamic range, low power requirements, self-contained nature, and efficiency of the flows on specific insects' respiratory and circulatory systems to revolutionize the design of microfluidic systems," the team explained.

Insects are often considered to be the most successful group of living species in Earth's history. Unlike mammals, insects breathe by transporting oxygen directly to tissues without the help of a circulatory system. "Their complex air-filled tracheal network delivers oxygen from the environment directly to the tissues, and conversely transports carbon dioxide from the tissues directly to the environment," Socha said.

In previous research, Socha and colleagues opened a new window into the inner workings of insects by using synchrotron x-ray imaging to enable the direct visualization of internal microstructures in living animals. According to Socha, "a key finding was a new form of convective respiration termed 'rhythmic tracheal compression' in which parts of the animal's tracheal system collapse and reinflate on the order of 10 to 20 times per minute."

Although scientists do not yet know exactly why some insects use this respiration process, it could be that "compressions function to target airflow to specific internal tissues, such as the heads of legs, and to keep oxygen partial pressures high for sudden fast movements like escape or for the regulation of acids and bases within their bodies," Socha said.

This knowledge is leading the team of researchers to ask if the pumping of the insect tracheal system can serve as a bio-inspiration for novel engineered systems
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Contact: Lynn Nystrom
tansy@vt.edu
540-231-4371
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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