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Earth Science

First Gear Mechanism Discovered In Nature 136

GameboyRMH writes "A gear mechanism has been discovered [paywalled original paper here, for those with access] for the first time in nature in the nymph of the Issus, a small plant-hopping insect common in Europe. It uses the gears to synchronize the movement and power of its hind legs, forcing the legs to propel it in a straight line when jumping, which would otherwise be impossible for the insect if it had to control the timing and force of its leg muscles independently."
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First Gear Mechanism Discovered In Nature

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  • by nblender ( 741424 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:07PM (#44834633)

    Our contraptions have 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and sometimes higher.

    • Yeah, but they all look the same, just different sizes.

    • Our contraptions have 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and sometimes higher.

      In fact, man is so superior, we even have contraptions with infinite gears! []

    • by gagol ( 583737 )
      Still pale in comparison to the physical mechanism to replicate DNA, nothing impressive here.
      • Or my favorite, the F1/F0 ATP Synthase [], which is literally a proton-powered turbine which inter-converts chemical and mechanical energy with ~97% efficiency.
        • by gagol ( 583737 )
          Cool! Thanks! Will read tonight.
          • The wiki page is slightly sparse, but links to this site [] and several others with more information are in the external links section. There are some really cool animations of the thing in action here [], especially this one [].
        • by skids ( 119237 )

          Often I've wondered whether there was an actual evolved free wheel anywhere at all in nature. I guess that marginally meets the criteria. Neat.

          • Also: bacterial flagellum []. The other crazy thing about this case is that at super high viscosity and ultra low inertia (e.g. a cell in water) you can't use regular swimming motions to move around. Turns out you have to have a motion which is not invariant under time reversal in order to actually generate thrust. The flagellum meets this criterion because the spiral / helical motion has a handedness (chirality) which is swapped under time reversal.
            • by skids ( 119237 )

              Thanks again. Actually used for propulsion, interesting. I was expecting more of an internal use like a pulse-less pressure turbine for stealth circulation, since obviously legs work better on the macroscopic level for travel over arbitrary terrain..

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Guess you Americans still can't get the grasp of irony.

      Yeah, some men are so superior they can't even spell superior.

      • Guess you Americans still can't get the grasp of irony.
        Yeah, some men are so superior they can't even spell superior.

        There is nothing ironic about this. The word superior does not imply perfection. In this example, man only needs to be better at spelling the word superior than nature is

        In a contest between man and nature, man will always win any spelling bee, even if nature was represented by an actual bee.

  • by solafide ( 845228 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:08PM (#44834637) Homepage
    Who knows, maybe next we'll evolve gears to help us reach those things on the top shelf better...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nah, that's why we have people above 7 feet tall. Jumping is for suckers, just stand up and reach it.

  • Transformers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:20PM (#44834767) Homepage Journal

    One of the original origin stories for the Transformers was that they evolved from naturally occurring pulleys and gears. IIRC it was used in the comics, until they retconned it.

  • picture (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:23PM (#44834791) Journal
    If you look at the picture of the thing [], it's pretty amazing. Each gear strip is 400 micrometers long.
    • Indeed. 10 to 12 gears, with a 1:1 gear ratio.

      The cool part?

      "Unlike man-made gears, each gear tooth is asymmetrical and curved towards the point where the cogs interlock - as man-made gears need a symmetric shape to work in both rotational directions, whereas the Issus gears are only powering one way to launch the animal forward."

    • If you look really carefully, you can see a stamp on the gear that says 'Made in China'
  • by paavo512 ( 2866903 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:25PM (#44834819)
    Extra credit for the article to put 'microseconds' in quotes! And then explain what it means. Whoa, so we can introduce entire generations in science who have not mastered difficult concepts like 'zero' before ( []).
    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      Probably the quotes were meant for the fans of intelligent design that went in flocks to read the article.
    • by gagol ( 583737 )
      Or in a backward country that consider the metric system as necessary to teach...
  • Full text as PDF (Score:5, Informative)

    by pdfbuddy ( 3070119 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:29PM (#44834865)
    You can read the paper's full text here: [] Some highlights: On page 2, there are some great images of the gears in action. Do check them out! Your friend, pdfbuddy.
  • Gears?

    Looking at the photo of an Issus on the link, I'm more interested in the jet propulsion the little bugger appears to be using.

  • by j_l_larson ( 1233762 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:54PM (#44835059)
    Somebody photoshop a top hat, goggles and pocketwatch for the first steampunk insect! []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's not impressive. Call me when you find an insect that has evolved a clutch.

  • "It's not yet known why the Issus loses its hind-leg gears on reaching adulthood"

    Issus wives can really grind your gears.
  • Microseconds has to be in single quotes, and defined in the same sentence it is used. That's ignoring that fact that it is also, apparently, a tag. *sigh*

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:03PM (#44835133) Journal

    Next up: a bug that has Linux. (Not just Linux that has bugs)

  • Apple already patented "a method of locomotion involving jumpy-springy gear-type thingamajigs or whatnot" and if the bug doesn't have a sizable patent portfolio for negotiating purposes, it's going to have to start walking around like everyone else. Also, the corners on that carapace are looking suspiciously rounded.
  • No car analogy?
  • by Banichi ( 1255242 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @07:09PM (#44835591)

    There exists a Weevil with a screw as a leg joint. []

    Nature is absolutely awesome.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @08:45PM (#44836199) Journal

    synchronize their cilia? I have watched them under stroboscopic illumination and there are wave-like patterns in the motion, similar to what you see when a centipede runs across the floor. Paramecia are single celled and have no nerves, no muscles. How do they synchronize the motion of those hundreds (or thousands) of cilia? Is it simply cascading chemical reactions?

    • Is it simply cascading chemical reactions?

      In a first approximation, all of biology is a series of cascading chemical reactions. Why should cilia be any different?

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.