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Penn researcher helps identify 'superfast' muscles responsible for bat echolocation
Date:9/29/2011

t the muscles that control this behavior must be pretty fast, but there was no understanding of how they worked," Mead said. "Research on superfast muscles is just a world apart from what they do. This study represents many worlds coming together: the muscle world, that bio-acoustics and echolocation world and the bat behavioral world."

The researchers tested the performance of the bats' vocal muscles by attaching one between a motor and a force sensor and electrically stimulating it to flex. When the motor was stationary, a single electric pulse allowed the researchers to measure the time that bat muscle took to twitch, or to contract and relax.

"The twitch gives us a sense of the time it takes for a muscle cell to go though all the steps, all the chemical reactions, necessary exert force and to relax again," Mead said. "The faster the muscle, the shorter the twitch. These muscles could go through all the motions in less than a hundredth of a second."

To approximate how much work the muscle was doing within the bat, however, the researchers had to change the length of the muscle while it was contracting. When the motor was on, it lengthened and shortened the muscle at a controllable rate. While the muscle was being stretched, the researchers stimulated the muscle to contract, so they could see if the muscle pulled on the motor harder than the motor pulled on the muscle.

The test to see if the muscle was truly of the superfast type involved increasing the speed of the motor to more than a 100 oscillations per second.

"You're always limited to how many twitches you can do in a given period of time," Mead said. "If you keep on increasing the frequency, doing twitch after twitch, you get to the point where the twitches begin to build on top of each other and the muscle doesn't fully turn off. We went to the highest cycling frequency where we still had evidence that the muscle was turning on and off. "

The research
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Contact: Evan Lerner
elerner@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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