The research of a Youngstown State University (YSU), Ohio, graduate student who studied turtle movement on treadmills could help improve human prosthetics.
Brett R. Aiello is a graduate student studying biological sciences. About a year ago, he joined the lab of Michael T. Butcher, PhD, assistant professor in the YSU Department of Biological Sciences, and began working on his master’s thesis with Butcher. Aiello and Butcher placed turtles on treadmills to study the relationship between muscle contraction and bone strain.
“As far as we know, it’s the only terrestrial study where we can verify these two things exist simultaneously and that adds to the overall stress and strain of your bone,” Butcher said.
While the study adds to the body of knowledge about biomechanics and evolution, Aiello said there could be a very practical outcome of the work, too. “There’s high potential that the data and information we collected and [Butcher’s] previous studies are able to directly contribute to biomedical engineers to develop more realistic prosthetics that model what is actually occurring in nature,” he said.
Aiello and Butcher conducted six experiments using river cooter turtles from South Carolina and would train each turtle on the treadmill (small enough to fit in a glass tank) for about three weeks before an experiment day. While walking, the turtles would notice their reflection and keep walking toward it. When it came time for experiment days, Aiello and Butcher implanted small crystals in the turtles that sent a sonar impulse between the crystals to determine how much the muscle was changing length. They also used a bone-strain gauge to record the twisting and bending of the turtle’s limbs while walking and electromyography (EMG) to keep track “when the muscle turned on and the duration it was on,” Aiello said. All of the experiments were recorded on a high-powered camera shooting 125 frames per second.
Aiello and Butcher submitted their research to the scientific journal Experimental Biology. It likely will be months before the review and revision process is complete.
“Fundamentally, we’re making a contribution to our understanding of science,” Butcher said. “Biomechanics is all about structure and function: How is something put together and how does it work?”