Bush-crickets could lead to sensors which more accurately mimic true hearing
A new research project which will examine the three steps of hearing in the bush-cricket's ear could lead to improved miniaturised sensors which more accurately mimic true hearing.
A multi-disciplinary team including biologists, physicists, and engineers will investigate the working mechanisms of the bush-cricket's cochlea – which is the main organ of hearing and is part of their inner ear – and create 3D computer models of the entire bush-cricket ear which simulate its operation using numerical analysis.
The research will produce theoretical circuitry of the different ear components, which will be used to inspire engineers in the design of new acoustic sensors. The findings will be significant for a variety of acoustic applications such as a broadband frequency analyser or micro-sensors.
This real-time investigation of such hearing mechanisms is impossible to achieve in a mammal's cochlea because of the of the organ's coiled nature and its location inside the skull, whereas the physiology of the bush-crickets make them a candidate for in-depth study.
The insect's ears, located their forelegs, have strong similarities to mammalian ears with an outer, middle, and inner ear to carry out the three basic steps of hearing: sound capture, impedance conversion, and frequency analysis.
In bush-crickets the frequency analysis is done in the inner ear the same as in mammals, but the two organs are morphologically different. This five-year study will examine the extent of the similarities between the mammalian and the bush-cricket hearing processes.
The research will be led by Dr Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, an entomologist specialising in sensory biology and biophysics at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, UK.
He has developed a new non-invasive method to investigate the working mechanisms of the bush-cricket's inner ear which focuses a laser beam to measure the hearing processes in real time, something made possible because of the unique transparency of some bush-cricket's body. The study will also involve calcium imaging, and use various species known as crystal bush-crickets as model organisms.
Field work will be carried out in Colombia and Asia where the crystal bush-crickets – also known as katydids – are found, while the lab research will take place in Lincoln.
The project has been funded with a 1,989.789 Euro ERC Consolidator grant from the European Research Council, and is the University's first to be awarded by the funding body. The University is also one of only 17 life sciences research centres in the UK to be awarded funding in this round of grants. The project is due to start in May.