A form of algae, called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, has a very complicated way of swimming. A new study published in Nature magazine explains how individual algae cells can control their motion using tiny little flagella operating in two different "gears."

The tiny Chlamydomonas cells use biological and chemical cues to control how their little swimming legs (which are actually flagella) move. The algae can beat their flagella in two gears: either in sync or out of sync. The in-sync motion pushes the little specks forward, but the out-of-sync motion can make the algae turn.


Scientists are calling the two flagella on these cells "coupled oscillators." Their motion is affected not only by the cell's individual chemical makeup, but by the motion of the fluid in which the algae is swimming.

The team, which is from Cambridge University, hopes that what they have learned about the algae's flagella will teach us about some larger, more human processes. The algae's flagella are pretty similar to the cilia on many cells that are very important in so many human processes.

Synchronized Swimming Of Algae [via ScienceDaily]

(Image: algae frantically spinning its flagella, from University of Cambridge)