Cheetah holds the distinction of being the world’s fastest creature. But it seems a teeny tiny organism may have beaten the unbeatable Cheetah in the speed game. A protozoan called Spirostomum ambiguum may be the fastest creature on the planet. What makes its feat particularly commendable is that it also happens to the world’s smallest creature. Its speed can be compared to – hold your breath – that of the fastest race cars on the planet. That’s right, the protozoan may be as fast as an F1 car, accelerating up to a whopping 200m/s2. Whereas a race car can only manage 00 km/h in 1.6 seconds. How cool is that?
The protozoan caught the fancy of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) who found out that the creature could achieve extreme speed by using its own body. The GIT researchers concluded that the secret of the protozoan’s speed lay in its cilia or hair-like structures that cover its body.
The creature can accelerate its speed by contracting its entire worm-like body to escape danger. All it needs is a few milliseconds to contract its entire body by over 60 percent. Its body is ribbon-like and is about 4mm long. But when it wants to flee, it can change its shape by contracting into a shape of a rugby ball, hauling itself at a breakneck speed.
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GIT scientist Saad Bhamla told the media that they are trying to understand the creature’s mechanism to incorporate the technique into small robots that can move fast with little energy use.
What makes the creature very fast is its muscles. In mammals like humans, muscles rely on actin and myosin proteins for movement and strength. But in tiny creatures like the Spirostomum, they move with the help of supramolecular springs, latches and motors are work in a rather mechanical fashion.
The tiny spirostomum was the subject of their four-year-long study, where the scientists tried to uncover the mechanism of their lightning speed movement. The team was curious to know how the internal organs of the creature didn’t rupture from its extreme speed. Now that they have uncovered the physics behind the creature’s movements, scientists will now harness the technology for tiny nanorobots.