For a lobster living on the ocean floor, the chemical trails left by prey, predators, mates and competitors must make a confusing tangle - each filament of odor intertwining with the others until discovering the source of any one of them starts to seem as impossible as untangling a ball of liquid yarn. But somehow the lobster does it, and a new study by researchers at Stanford, the University of California-Berkeley and Bowling Green State University has brought scientists one step closer to understanding how.
The study focused on the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, which uses its two olfactory antennules - 6-centimeter-long antennae covered with arrays of odor-sensitive hairs - to sniff out odors. The findings, which will be published in the journal Science on Nov. 30, could help engineers design robots that can follow chemical trails underwater, a process known as plume tracing.
``We`re trying to understand how living organisms use information - in this case, olfactory information, information that they sense by smell - to find either a prey or a mate,`` says Jeffrey Koseff, professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the School of Engineering at Stanford.
Koseff and his colleagues used fluorescent dye, high-speed video and a robotic lobster to model the flow of an odorant past the lobster`s antennules, which the lobster rapidly flicks when it is ``sniffing`` for odors.
In order to have complete control over the flicking, the researchers filled a discarded exoskeleton with epoxy and replaced one of the antennules with a computer-controlled steel wire to create a robotic lobster. A real antennule was slipped onto the wire before each experimental trial. The lobster was then submerged in a tank of water, and a plume of fluorescent dye, illuminated by a sheet of laser light, was released at one end of the tank.
As the plume flowed downstream toward the lobster, the Page: 1 2 3 Related biology news :1
Contact: Mark Shwartz
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