Bats' touch sensor cells enable precision flight
A team of researchers that includes ISR-affiliated Professor Cynthia Moss (Johns Hopkins University) and ISR Assistant Research Scientist Susanne Sterbing-D’Angelo have demonstrated for the first time that bats fly so precisely because their wings are equipped with highly sensitive touch sensors, cells that respond to even slight changes in airflow.
They have published their results in an article in the May 12 edition of the journal Cell Reports.
The researchers determined how the sense of touch plays a key role in powered flight. They showed how sensory receptors in bat wings send information about airflow to neurons in the brain, enabling the bat to make split-second flight control adjustments.
In addition to Moss and Sterbing-D’Angelo, the authors included Mohit Chadha from the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science and Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland, and Kara L. Marshall, Laura A. deSouza, and Ellen A. Lumpkin, of Columbia University.
"Until now no one had investigated the sensors on the bat's wing, which allow it to serve as more than a propeller, a flipper, an airplane wing or any simple airfoil," Moss said in a Johns Hopkins University interview. "These findings can inform more broadly how organisms use touch to guide movement."
Funding for the research was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to Sterbing-D'Angelo and Moss, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Columbia Skin Disease Research Center to Lumpkin.
Video courtesy of Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Communications. Produced and edited by Len Turner, Director of Video Strategy; photographed by Dave Schmelick.
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May 11, 2015