University of Cambridge > > Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series > Morphing and shape control: some lessons from the motility of unicellular organisms

Morphing and shape control: some lessons from the motility of unicellular organisms

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DNMW01 - Optimal design of complex materials

Locomotion strategies employed by unicellular organism are a rich source of inspiration for studying mechanisms for shape control. In fact, in an overwhelming majority of cases, biological locomotion can be described as the result of the body pushing against the world, by using shape change. Motion is then a result Newton’s third and second law: the world reacts with a force that can be exploited by the body as a propulsive force, which puts the body into motion following the laws of mechanics. Strategies employed by unicellular organisms are particularly interesting because they are invisible to the naked eye, and offer surprising new solutions to the question of how shape can be controlled.

In recent years, we have studied locomotion and shape control in Euglena gracilis using a broad range of tools ranging from theoretical and computational mechanics, to experiment and observations at the microscope, to manufacturing of prototypes. This unicellular protist is particularly intriguing because it can adopt different motility strategies: swimming by flagellar propulsion, or crawling thanks to large amplitude shape changes of the whole body (a behavior known as metaboly). We will survey our most recent findings within this stream of research.


1. Rossi, M., Cicconofri, G., Beran, A., Noselli, G., DeSimone, A.:
Kinematics of flagellar swimming in Euglena gracilis: Helical trajectories and flagellar shapes.
PNAS 2017

Noselli, G., Beran, A., Arroyo, M., DeSimone, A.:
Swimming Euglena respond to confinement with a behavioral change enabling effective crawling.
Nature Physics (to appear, 2019)

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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