De Fysica Van Menselijke Spermacellen Vergeleken Met De Fysica Van De Potvis

Reizen is uiterst moeilijk voor microscopisch sperma - denk aan een mens die probeert te zwemmen in een poel gemaakt van... andere mensen. We kunnen de reis van een spermacel vergelijken met die van een potvis door het Reynoldsgetal te berekenen, een voorspelling van hoe vocht zich gedraagt, vaak fluctuerend als gevolg van de grootte van de zwemmer. Aatish Bhatia onderzoekt de grote (zij het kleine) sperma-reis.

In 1977, the physicist Edward Purcell calculated that if you push a bacteria and then let go, it will stop in about a millionth of a second. In that time, it will have traveled less than the width of a single atom. The same holds true for a sperm and many other microbes.

It all has to do with being really small. Microscopic creatures inhabit a world alien to us, where making it through an inch of water is an incredible endeavor. But why does size matter so much for a swimmer? What makes the world of a sperm so fundamentally different from that of a sperm whale? To find out, we need to dive into the physics of fluids.

Here's a way to think about it. Imagine you are swimming in a pool. It's you and a whole bunch of water molecules. Water molecules outnumber you a thousand trillion trillion to one. So, pushing past them with your gigantic body is easy, but if you were really small, say you were about the size of a water molecule, all of a sudden, it's like you're swimming in a pool of people. Rather than simply swishing by all the teeny, tiny molecules, now every single water molecule is like another person you have to push past to get anywhere.

In 1883, the physicist Osborne Reynolds figured out that there is one simple number that can predict how a fluid will behave. It's called the Reynolds number, and it depends on simple properties like the size of the swimmer, its speed, the density of the fluid, and the stickiness, or the viscosity, of the fluid. What this means is that creatures of very different sizes inhabit vastly different worlds.

For example, because of its huge size, a sperm whale inhabits the large Reynolds number world. If it flaps its tail once, it can coast ahead for an incredible distance. Meanwhile, sperm live in a low Reynolds number world. If a sperm were to stop flapping its tail, it wouldn't even coast past a single atom.

To imagine what it would feel like to be a sperm, you need to bring yourself down to its Reynolds number. Picture yourself in a tub of molasses with your arms moving about as slow as the minute hand of a clock, and you'd have a pretty good idea of what a sperm is up against.

So, how do microbes manage to get anywhere? Well, many don't bother swimming at all. They just let the food drift to them. This is somewhat like a lazy cow that waits for the grass under its mouth to grow back.

But many microbes do swim, and this is where those incredible adaptations come in. One trick they can use is to deform the shape of their paddle. By cleverly flexing their paddle to create more drag on the power stroke than on the recovery stroke, single-celled organisms like paramecia manage to inch their way through the crowd of water molecules.

But there's an even more ingenious solution arrived at by bacteria and sperm. Instead of wagging their paddles back and forth, they wind them like a cork screw. Just as a cork screw on a wine bottle converts winding motion into forward motion, these tiny creatures spin their helical tails to push themselves forward in a world where water feels as thick as cork.

Other strategies are even stranger. Some bacteria take Batman's approach. They use grappling hooks to pull themselves along. They can even use this grappling hook like a sling shot and fling themselves forward.

Others use chemical engineering. H. pylori lives only in the slimy, acidic mucus inside our stomachs. It releases a chemical that thins out the surrounding mucus, allowing it to glide through slime. Maybe it's no surprise that these guys are also responsible for stomach ulcers.

So, when you look really closely at our bodies and the world around us, you can see all sorts of tiny creatures finding clever ways to get around in a sticky situation. Without these adaptations, bacteria would never find their hosts, and sperms would never make it to their eggs, which means you would never get stomach ulcers, but you would also never be born in the first place. (Pop)


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