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Undulatory locomotion, as seen in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, is a common swimming gait of organisms in the low Reynolds number regime, where viscous forces are dominant. Although the nematode’s motility is expected to be a strong function of its material properties, measurements remain scarce. Here, the swimming behavior of C. elegans is investigated in experiments and in a simple model. Experiments reveal that nematodes swim in a periodic fashion and generate traveling waves that decay from head to tail. The model is able to capture the experiments’ main features and is used to estimate the nematode’s Young’s modulus E and tissue viscosity η. For wild-type C. elegans, we find E ≈ 3.77 kPa and η ≈ –860 Pa•s; values of η for live C. elegans are negative because the tissue is generating rather than dissipating energy. Results show that material properties are sensitive to changes in muscle functional properties, and are useful quantitative tools with which to more accurately describe new and existing muscle mutants.
Date Posted: 10 August 2010
This document has been peer reviewed.