Norwegian Researchers Create Microscopic Pac-Man Game To Observe Microbes

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It is said that the classics never die. Be it movies, books, or in this case, the ghost-gobbling game, Pac-Man. In its 36-year existence, the Pac-Man has undergone numerous remakes and reboots. But this time, the game made a comeback on an entirely new, microscopic scale, to accommodate the equally tiny “Pac-Man” and “Ghosts.”

The brainchild of researchers at the University College of Southeast Norway the fun project, has a dual purpose — to raise awareness of the relatively unknown field of Micro and Nano Systems Technology and more importantly, to demonstrate how it can be used to build a three-dimensional environment for even the tiniest of organisms. The scientists, led by Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen, believe that such a setting allows the microbes to showcase their natural behavior more effectively than when placed in a two-dimensional Petri dish. The 3-D labyrinth, which was just about a millimeter wide, was created with the help of filmmaker Adam Bartley who used neon lighting to give the miniature game the classic Pac-Man look and make it easier to capture the organisms on film.

Photo Credit: Adam Bartley

The team began by filling the laboratory version of the game with some nutrient-rich fluid. They then introduced two single-celled microbes Euglena and Ciliates, to represent “Pac-Man” and some multicellular predatory rotifers to act as the “Ghosts.” Watching the micro-organisms interact in an environment, which included obstacles, walls, and canals meant to mimic the peat and moss they encounter in their natural environment, turned out to be very insightful. The researchers observed that the single-celled Euglena and Ciliates did exactly what they do in a Petri-dish; i.e., move around randomly. The rotifers, however, appeared to move with purpose once they were familiar with the environment. The scientists think that organisms leave behind a chemical trace that enables them to make their way around in a more systematic manner.

The team still needs to investigate if there is any logic behind the microbes’ movement patterns. However, to do that, they need to put tracking devices on the rotifers, as well as, build additional intricate mazes for them to find their way through! So, stay tuned for another exciting Pac-Man episode starring these tiny animals!

Resources: digitaltrends.com, newatlas.com, theverge.com

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