Communication Between Microswimmers

The elongated cells of Spirostomum ambiguum swim using hair-like cilia, but when threatened, the cells contract violently, sending out long-range hydrodynamic waves, like those visualized above. Along with these waves, the cells release toxins aimed at whatever predator threatens them. In a colony, these waves act like a communication beacon. The swirl of a previous cell’s reaction tugs on its neighbors. As they contract, the message–and the toxins–spread. If the colony density is high enough, the hydrodynamic trigger waves will propagate through the entire colony, releasing enough toxins to disable even large predators. (Image and video credit: A. Mathijssen et al.)

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