Insect study could help boost prosthetic limb development
The image shows a locust (Schistocerca gregaria) used in the Current Biology article. Photo ©Tom Matheson.
Neurobiologists from the University of Leicester have shown that insect limbs can move without muscles – a finding that may provide engineers with new ways to improve the control of robotic and prosthetic limbs.
The study, published today in the journal Current Biology helps to explain how insects control their movements using a close interplay of neuronal control and ‘clever biomechanical tricks’.
Research shows that the structure of some insect leg joints causes the legs to move even in the absence of muscles. So-called ‘passive joint forces’ serve to return the limb back towards a preferred resting position.
The passive movements differ in limbs that have different behavioural roles and different musculature, suggesting that the joint structures are specifically adapted to complement muscle forces. The researchers propose a motor control scheme for insect limb joints in which not all movements are driven by muscles.
Dr Tom Matheson, from the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester led the research and said he hoped the research on locusts and grasshoppers would “spur a new understanding of how limbs work and can be controlled, by not just insects, but by other animals, people, and even by robots”.