Researchers at the University College of Southeast Norway created a 3D maze that resembles the 1980s arcade game Pac-Man as a way to better communicate their findings on microorganisms to the public. A video shows the unpleasant creatures as they chase on others through a liquid-filled, tiny labyrinth. The research team says that environment is perfect to study the behavior of the multi-celled rotifers.
The video features the unicellular species known as Euglena in their role as Pac-Man, while the multicellular species called rotifers play the carnivorous ghosts. The only difference between this maze and the video game is that there are no power-up pills. The rotifers just hunt the single-celled protozoa across the labyrinth because the researchers’ goal was to study the euglena’s response to a life-threatening situation as the rotifers were chasing them in a tiny area.
Less than a millimeter in diameter, the small version of the popular game was created with the help of filmmaker Adam Bartley, who designed the map and captured the tiny creatures using micro scenography as they moved quickly across the area.
The Norwegian study authors noted that the maze inspired on Pac-Man provides an excellent solution to difficulties represented by the use of Petri dishes to study microorganisms, as Erik Andrew Johannessen of the school’s department of micro and nano system technology wrote in their blog post.
Microorganisms studied in Petri dishes often run out of room beyond the surface due to the limited depth of field in light microscopy. In contrast, the tiny labyrinth created by this research team allows the small creatures to move around freely. This environment is very similar to the complex series of canals scientists find in the microorganisms’ nature habitats, which means that the subjects can be studied more extensively.
The Norwegian researchers said they would hopefully be able to expand the unique project further to track the species digitally. They will then determine whether their apparently random movements make sense.
Research on microorganisms provides relevant answers about our world
Even though organisms are small, a little disgusting and might not seem significant, they are abundant and among the oldest living creatures on Earth. By studying them, scientists can find out more about the world we live in and these microorganisms can show us how to deal with diseases and environmental issues.
As an example, studying them allows researchers to understand better how deadly viruses have the ability to spread so fast, killing thousands of people. Another application is related to fermentation methods that scientists can improve to create safer food products.
Pac-man was first released in Japan in May 1980. It became widely popular right away and even considered an icon of that decade’s popular culture.
Source: Christian Science Monitor