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Powerful X-ray beams at Argonne, new electronic flight simulator

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.

These experiments uncovered previously unsuspected interactions of various proteins as the muscles stretch and contract that suggest a model for how these powerful biological motors turn "on" and "off" during the wingbeat. Irving said, "We are now in a position to relate muscle power output to changes in molecular structure, which helps us understand how insects generate enough power to support flight." The fact that these experiments are performed on tiny, genetically malleable fruit flies raises the possibility of addressing much more specific questions concerning the roles of various protein components in muscle function using mutant or genetically-engineered flies.

The authors note that the many similarities between insect muscle and other oscillatory muscles including human cardiac muscle mean that the research may be adaptable for other uses. "The data collected in these experiments suggest new ways to study cardiac muscle that may allow us to explain how changes in its molecular machinery determine heart muscle performance," Irving said, adding, "The fact that flight muscles are genetically mutable by the investigators raise the possibility they could serve as useful models of inherited human heart disease."

Collaborators on the research, in addition to Dickinson, are Gerrie Farman, Tanya Bekyarova and David Gore of IIT, Mark Frye of Caltech, and David Maughan of the University of Vermont.


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Contact: Catherine Foster
cfoster@anl.gov
630-252-5580
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
19-Jan-2005


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