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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid