How Fish on Treadmills Could Improve Human Hearing


No matter how deep they go or how fast they move, learning how fish navigate through their
watery world may help scientists fight disease and create new technology. We’re trying to understand the physics of how these animals can move so efficiently through the water. I am Dr. Jim Liao I am an assistant professor at the Whitney Labs for Marine Bio-science at the
University of Florida and I study fish and in particular how we can study fish to understand
human health and diseases. Its the study of biomimetics. Biomimetics is actually mimicking
biology in order to gain insight in to how things work. To do this Prof. Liao is studying the
movement of trout and zebra fish. So what we are looking at now is a flow tank which
is like a treadmill for fish. Water can be pushed through fast or slow, cylinders like
these create turbulence, a laser allows researchers to see the invisible current of the water. It’s all caught on a high speed video camera aimed at a mirror underneath the tank. And what we
can then do is we can use the images of the camera and reconstruct the flow behind the
fish, so its a way to visualize clear water.This is video of the fish moving through varying
degrees of turbulence producing swirls of water called eddies. A fish will learn how to shut
down all of its muscles and surf on the eddies shed behind the cylinder saving a lot of energy.
The fish senses the turbulence by using its sixth sense called the lateral line system.
And its made up of clusters of hair cells which can detect the water flow across the
skin of the animal. These cells help fish maneuver quickly and efficiently in the water
avoiding obstacles and using the movement of the water to their advantage. The hair
cells that cover the zebra fish are almost identical to the hair cells in a humans inner
ear. So by understanding how fish swim we can actually understand how people can hear
better. Possible breakthroughs that could begin with a tiny fish. This is Inside Science
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