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Summer science quiz #2 ... more

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  • Summer science quiz #2 ... more

    Here is a continuation of our discussion - all messages
    which I received during the last half day. Enjoy.

    Krystyna Gielo-Perczak, Co-moderator Biomch-L
    From: "Michael A. Riley"
    >To paraphrase George Orwell: "Even legs good, odd legs bad".
    >Tom Jenkyn

    The current discussion (and especially the paraphrased Orwell
    statement) remind me of a television story recently about a dog that
    lost two legs, both on one side of the body (I believe on the right
    side). Remarkably, the dog was eventually able to walk, run, and even
    jump to catch a frisbee, using only the front and back legs on the
    other side. The dog's movements were amazingly fluid and athletic;
    much more so than those of dogs that have lost only one leg (and
    rivaling those of a normal dog). Of course, with only one case one
    can't make generalizations, but for dogs or other quadrapeds
    unfortunate enough to lose a limb or limbs, might losing 2 actually
    be better (for locomotion, at least) than losing only 1?

    Regarding the odd-legged crabs & other arthropods--experiments have
    been conducted in which 2 legs (one on each side) of an insect have
    been amputated (I'm not aware of any experiments involving amputation
    of only 1 leg). The insects sometimes switched from the normal
    'alternating tripod' gait (3 legs--the front and back on one side and
    the middle on the other side--are synchronized and in swing phase,
    while the other 3 are synchronized and in stance phase, at a given
    point in time) to a 'diagonal' gait in which (if I remember
    correctly) ipsilateral limbs moved in-phase with one another, with a
    180 degree phase difference between contralateral limbs. This type
    of result raises a question--might the prominence of even-numbered
    limbs and the observed switches in gait patterns have something to do
    with symmetry principles in networks of coupled oscillators?

    From: Simon Roe

    >Here's another thought.

    What if one gets damaged?

    If the gait relied on 3 limbs, it would be much more difficult to manage
    with 2 than it is for a 4 legged animal to manage with 3.

    Simon Roe
    From: "Daniel P. Ferris"

    Michael LaBarbera wrote an interesting article about wheeled locomotion in
    nature for those interested in the topic:
    LaBarbera M (1983) Why the wheels won't go. AMERICAN NATURALIST=20
    I also wanted to suggest that one reason why there may be a lack of animals
    with an odd number of legs is related to the process of evolution. Animals
    do not create an appendage out of nothing. They build on the form and
    structure that already exists. As such, they are constrained by the
    morphology of their ancestors. If all of the creatures that made it to
    land from the sea had bilateral symmetry, it is more likely that bilateral
    symmetry would be passed down to future species than not.
    There are some good discussions about evolutionary contraints on morphology
    and the relationship between morphology and ecological performance in:

    Koehl, M.A.R. (1996) When does morphology matter? Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst.

    Wake D.B., Roth G., eds. (1989) Complex Organismal Functions: Integration
    and Evolution in Verbrates. New York: Wiley & Sons

    Wake M.H. (1992) Morphology, the study of form and function, in modern
    evolutionary biology. In Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology, ed. D.
    Futuyma, J. Antonovics,pp. 289=96346. New York: Oxford Univ. Press

    Dan Ferris
    From: Chuck Pell

    Wheels *are* found in nature --- real ones, not just
    rolling spiders or tumbleweeds. True rotary joints
    are found in bacteria that possess flagella. The cilia
    and flagellum of big eukaryotes actually bend, but
    the bacterial flagellum is a rigid helix, a corkscrew-
    shaped protein called flagellin. The joint where the
    corkscrew goes into the bacterial membrane has
    thrust bearings, radial bearings, and is a true rotary
    motor. The flagellin, once formed, is thought not
    to require functions much more like
    a screw through cold molasses, than like a propeller
    through water... (Re of