Experiments and theory of undulatory locomotion in a simple structured medium

Trushant Majmudar, Eric E. Keaveny, Jun Zhang, Michael J. Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Undulatory locomotion of micro-organisms through geometrically complex, fluidic environments is ubiquitous in nature and requires the organism to negotiate both hydrodynamic effects and geometrical constraints. To understand locomotion through such media, we experimentally investigate swimming of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans through fluid-filled arrays of micro-pillars and conduct numerical simulations based on a mechanical model of the worm that incorporates hydrodynamic and contact interactions with the lattice. We show that the nematode's path, speed and gait are significantly altered by the presence of the obstacles and depend strongly on lattice spacing. These changes and their dependence on lattice spacing are captured, both qualitatively and quantitatively, by our purely mechanical model. Using the model, we demonstrate that purely mechanical interactions between the swimmer and obstacles can produce complex trajectories, gait changes and velocity fluctuations, yielding some of the life-like dynamics exhibited by the real nematode. Our results show that mechanics, rather than biological sensing and behaviour, can explain some of the observed changes in the worm's locomotory dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1809-1823
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number73
StatePublished - Aug 7 2012


  • Biofluid dynamics
  • C. elegans
  • Complex media
  • Fluid-structure interactions
  • Locomotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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