Static electricity helps parasitic nematodes to land on victims

Las vigas – Some types of helminths can fling themselves high into the air to catch fruit flies and other insects. Experiments are now revealing this leap Steinernema carpocapsae Nematodes benefit from a secret weapon that makes them especially effective at chasing victims: static electricity.

flying insects Build an electric charge as they move through the air (SN: 10/31/22). It’s the same effect that causes electricity to collect on fog droplets in clouds, and ultimately leads to lightning.

Biomechanics researcher Victor Ortega Jimenez of the University of Maine in Orono reported March 6 at the American Physical Society meeting that individual insects can accumulate a charge of 100 volts or so. When the nematodes jump, the The charge on a passing insect attracts parasites Like lint to a firm sweater.

An insect in the top center of the frame surrounded by a rainbow of colours.  Arrows show the direction of movement of the nematodes;  The colors indicate relative speed with blue for slower and red for faster.
When the insect moves, it accumulates charges that generate surrounding electric fields. A new study reveals that these charges generate static electricity that pulls parasitic nematodes toward the insect. Arrows show the direction of movement of the nematodes; The colors indicate relative speed with blue for slower and red for faster.Victor M. Ortega Jimenez

To test the effect of the electric charge, Ortega Jimenez and his colleagues mounted dead fruit flies on wires and placed them near a nematode-covered surface. With no charge on the fly, only nematodes that had hopped in the direction of the insect landed on the target, as expected. When the researchers applied an electric charge to a suspended fruit fly, even nematodes that were initially heading in the wrong direction were caught in the electric field and pulled into the fly.

Ortega JimĂ©nez also studied the effects of electric force on spider webs. When charged insects approach a net, “the silk is directly attracted to the insects,” he says. That made him wonder if jumping nematodes depended on these powers as well.

Researchers have long looked at the effect of fluids and airflow on insects and other microorganisms. But only recently have they added electricity to the mix, says Ortega Jimenez. “We need to know how animals actually deal with these forces at this scale.”

Some very small parasitic worms called nematodes have the unerring ability to jump high into the air to land on fruit flies and other live prey. New research shows that prey nematodes unintentionally extend their hand. Once in motion, the fly accumulates an electric charge. Like electrostatic cling, this charge can pull nematodes inward. In this experiment, the researchers applied an electric charge to a fly held in place. A nematode fly (left) moved in the air and then headed directly towards the fly.

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