Lessons on bird-watching

December 21, 2010 By Greg St. Martin, Northeastern University
Lessons on bird-watching
Prof. Richard Marsh has coauthored a new paper that links walking and running mechanics of large birds and humans. Courtesy photo/Matthew Propert.

What do emus, ostriches, and humans have in common? Similar walking and running mechanics and the ability to use energy efficiently, according to a new study coauthored by Northeastern University researcher Richard Marsh.

The study links the of animals limbs with corresponding energy use, which Marsh said could spark breakthroughs in the development of rehabilitation devices for humans.

Researchers found emus and ostriches prefer to walk within a narrow range of economical speeds—a trend that continues even when they switch to running. Marsh said that despite anatomical differences, humans follow the same pattern. Therefore, the basic findings from studying the biomechanics of these large birds can provide crucial information for developing the next generation of prosthetic legs and ankles.

Marsh, a biology professor in the College of Science, said the goal is to “unite human and animal studies in terms of limb mechanics and energetics”—research, he said, that has been oversimplified in the past.

He collaborated with researchers from California State Polytechnic Institute at Pomona on the paper, which was published this month in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a biological sciences research journal. The report stems from a larger research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Matthew Propert, one of Marsh’s former undergraduate biology students, also contributed to the findings.

Marsh said the research could lead to other significant applications across a variety of disciplines, including archeology, for example. Understanding muscle mechanics and energy use of emus, ostriches, and other large birds, Marsh said, can even shed light on how extinct like dinosaurs once moved.

“What I always tell beginning students to the lab is that if we don’t understand the normal function of the limb, we can’t really hope to optimize rehabilitation strategies and fix problems,” Marsh said.

Explore further: $500,000 Dyke Marsh study begins

Related Stories

$500,000 Dyke Marsh study begins

March 23, 2008

The National Park Service is starting a $500,000 probe to find ways to improve and maintain the Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, Va., it was reported Saturday.

Trotting with emus, walk with dinosaurs

October 25, 2006

Scientists are watching emus to learn more about dinosaurs that once trotted along a long-lost U.S. coastline during the Middle Jurassic period.

Ostriches run fast because of 'springy' tendons

October 29, 2010

Australian and U.S. researchers studying the movement of ostriches have discovered the giant flightless birds can store double the elastic energy per step in their tendons than humans can. This considerably reduces the effort ...

Frog plus frying pan equals better antibiotic

August 20, 2007

By creating "Teflon" versions of natural antibiotics found in frog skin, a research team led by biological chemist E. Neil Marsh has made the potential drugs better at thwarting bacterial defenses, an improvement that could ...

A radical solution for environmental pollution

June 2, 2005

Nature abounds with examples of bacteria that can thrive in extreme situations—surviving on toxic chemicals, for instance. In a paper published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) May 25, University ...

Recommended for you

More genes are active in high-performance maize

January 19, 2018

When two maize inbred lines are crossed with each other, an interesting effect occurs: The hybrid offspring have a significantly higher yield than either of the two parent plants. Scientists at the University of Bonn have ...

Microbial communities demonstrate high turnover

January 19, 2018

When Mark Twain famously said "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes," he probably didn't anticipate MIT researchers would apply his remark to their microbial research. But a new study does ...

Hot weather is bad news for bird sperm

January 19, 2018

A new study led by Macquarie University and spanning Sydney and Oslo has shown that exposure to extreme temperatures, such as those experienced during heatwave conditions, significantly reduces sperm quality in zebra finches, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.