Scientists Record Flight Muscles Moving Inside Flies

Posted on March 26, 2014

Blowfly motor

Scientists have recorded flight muscles moving inside flies for the first time using a 3D X-ray scanning technique. 3D movies of moving fly muscles were created by a research team Oxford University, Imperial College London, and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The researchers used the PSI's Swiss Light Source, a powerful X-ray source, to record footage of the blowfly's flight motor.

The researchers say that in the time it takes a human to blink the blowfly (Calliphora vicina) can beat its wings 50 times. The beats are controlled using tiny hair-thin steering muscles. The wings themselves do not contain muscles. The flight muscles are hidden within the thorax.

Dr Rajmund Mokso from the PSI, says in a statement, "The thoracic tissues block visible light, but can be penetrated by X-rays. By spinning the flies around in the dedicated fast-imaging experimental setup at the Swiss Light Source, we recorded radiographs at such a high speed that the flight muscles could be viewed from multiple angles at all phases of the wingbeat. We combined these images into 3D visualizations of the flight muscles as they oscillated back and forth 150 times per second."

Dr. Simon Walker from Oxford, a joining first author of the study, says, "The fly's wing hinge is probably the most complex joint in nature, and is the product of more than 300 million years of evolutionary refinement. The result is a mechanism that differs dramatically from conventional manmade designs; built to bend and flex rather than to run like clockwork."

Take a look:

A report of the research, "In Vivo Time-Resolved Microtomography Reveals the Mechanics of the Blowfly Flight Motor," is published here in PLOS Biology.

Photo: Oxford University/PSI

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