News / Science & Technology

Insect Boasts 'Mechanical Gears'

A juvenile Issus is seen on a leaf. (Cambridge University)A juvenile Issus is seen on a leaf. (Cambridge University)
x
A juvenile Issus is seen on a leaf. (Cambridge University)
A juvenile Issus is seen on a leaf. (Cambridge University)

Related Articles

Beetles, Housefly Larvae Show Great Potential for Animal Feed Sector

French start-up company Ynsect identifies cheap, nourishing, locally produced alternative to soybeans as crucial protein source
VOA News
If you think humans invented the kind of gears you find in an automobile transmission, think again.

Scientists have discovered that the humble Issus, a plant hopping insect the size of a flea, has “hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing ‘teeth’ that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronize the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump.”

It’s being called the “first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure,” according to scientists at the University of Cambridge in England where the discovery was made.

"We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we've found that that is only because we didn't look hard enough,” said co-author Gregory Sutton, now at the University of Bristol. “These gears are not designed; they are evolved - representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for
synchronization in the animal world.” 

The gears of the Issus insect are seen under a microscope. (Cambridge University)The gears of the Issus insect are seen under a microscope. (Cambridge University)
x
The gears of the Issus insect are seen under a microscope. (Cambridge University)
The gears of the Issus insect are seen under a microscope. (Cambridge University)
The gears resemble what you’d find on a bicycle or in every automobile transmission, with each gear tooth having a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip, which is a shock absorbing feature to keep the teeth from shearing off.

On the Issus, an insect common in European gardens, the opposing hind legs lock together like gears in a car, so that the legs move almost simultaneously--within one millionth of a second of each other.

Researchers said the design is critical for the powerful jumps the insect uses as its primary mode of transport.

The jumps are powerful indeed. The Issus accelerates to five meters per second within milliseconds and endures up to 700 g-forces, much more than the human body can withstand.

“This precise synchronization would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required,” said lead author Malcolm Burrows, a professor at Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force - then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock, creating absolute synchronicity.”
Burrows added that the in the case of the Issus, the “skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can’t.”

The gears are only found in the juvenile Issus, and scientists still don’t know why the hind-leg gears are lost in adulthood.

The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Science

Here's a video on the discovery, which shows the insect jumping:

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Brad from: Seattle
September 16, 2013 2:21 AM
"These gears are not designed; they are evolved - representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronization in the animal world.”
How can you be so sure? How can you discredit design? How do you know the origin? It's like finding an abandoned Ford somewhere in the woods and saying, "it was not designed; it evolved." Biased nonsense that has no scientific basis.

by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Nakameguro, TKO
September 13, 2013 8:46 PM
Using rotation mechanism is one of the most significant innovation of humans. They are "Wheels for cars", "Propellers for air planes" and "Screw Propellers for ships".

No other animals use rotation for thier transportation.

Thanks for that innovation, we are able to transport further and faster than other animals.
But that is also the cause of world wide invation by humans.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs