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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

UN Tackles Illicit Wildlife Poaching Amid Cecil the Lion Uproar

The 193-member General Assembly adopts its first resolution on the issue following a two-year campaign by Germany and Gabon More

Trump Tops Poll as Rivals Battle to Make Debate

Donald Trump jumps into a big lead in Republican presidential race, according to latest poll 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs