Plankton’s powerful pogo


A particular pond-scum has an incredibly powerful spring for its size. A single-celled creature called Vorticella convallaria attaches itself to various things by a stalk called a spasmoneme. Back in 1676, the inventor of the microscope, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, noted that the stalk contracted sharply when the creature was disturbed.

Danielle France of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied this more closely.1 The spasmoneme contracts like a stretched telephone lead springing back into its coiled shape. France showed that it can even contract against an acceleration of 10,000 g (i.e. 10,000 times the acceleration due to gravity; astronauts and jet fighter pilots will pass out at only 10 g). Thus pound-for-pound, it is more powerful than a car’s engine.

This nano-superspring contains six proteins of a type called centrins. They are triggered by calcium ions from the cell, especially ‘Centrin 5’.

The protozoan Vorticella convallaria can attach itself to rocks, lily pads, etc., using a stalk called a spasmoneme.

France’s team is trying to build artificial nano-supersprings from centrins, and believes they could be part of ‘miniature probes that would deliver drugs deep inside the body’. It is just one of many examples we have reported of the brightest human engineers plagiarizing from the Master Designer. (See, e.g., Scientists finally copy Creator’s super-rubber, Creation 28(2):7, 2006; Car-maker copies boxfish design, Creation 28(1):8, 2005; Spinach power, Creation 27(4):8, 2005; Hot spider silk, Creation 27(3):9, 2005; Gecko ‘glue’, Creation 27(3):9, 2005; Pterrific pterosaurs, Creation 27(2):7, 2005; Sniffer dogs still best, Creation 26(4):9, 2004; Ideal skin cream, Creation 26(3):7, 2004) … also Q&A Design Features.)

So ‘pond scum’, contrary to the popular evolutionary stereotype of its being ‘primitive’, is anything but ‘primitive’.

  1. Aldhous, P., Whiplash spring hurls plankton to engineering fame, New Scientist 188(2530):12, 17 December 2005.
Published: 1 August 2006