Do you ever get bored with your generic kidneys and garden variety human eyeballs? I know I do. While there are a couple of good decorative and useful mods out there (I’ve opted for piercings and fillings), we are all looking forward to the time when we can just splice in whatever we fancy. Here are three interesting alternatives and extras I wouldn’t mind having:
Statocysts (Squid ears)
Squid have a really neat auditory system – who knew? Well, no one until recently – we only just discovered that they have a sense of hearing at all. Research on the Loligo pealei species has revealed that they hear using nifty organs called Statocysts which, like human ears, help with balance as well as detecting sound.Statocysts are little hollow balls. They are filled with liquid and the inside surface is covered with tiny hairs, each of which is linked to a nerve. Within the void of the statocyst floats a tiny grain of calcium called a statolith. The statolith normally rests near the front of the ball touching a few hairs. Any sound waves that reach the squid cause the statolith to jiggle about and touch different hairs. The brain interprets the pattern of nerve activity this produces and ‘hears’ the noise! Like humans, the squid can get an idea of the direction from which the sound is coming from by comparing the time of detection and the strength of the vibration reported by each statocyst.
If that wasn’t enough, the statocyst regulates balance. If the squid moves forwards quickly the statolith jumps from the front of the cyst to the back. The delay between the front and back hairs being activated, as well the position of the activate hairs report the direction and velocity of the movement. In the same way the squid gets feedback about whether it has moved up, down, left or right.
Squid ears are probably no better than human ears, but I would definitely have a pair – cephalopod over Ipod, as I always say.
Ampullae of Lorenzini – ElectrodetectionIn a typically smart move the ancestors of humans left the oceans before having a chance to develop electrosensitivity. Bar a few species* it is only possessed by aquatic or amphibious creatures, the most electrosensitive of all of which are sharks. Sharks and some other species detect electricity using pores in their skin called ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’. The pores lead to tubules connected to sensory nerve cells and filled with a semi-conductive jelly. Changes in the charge of the gel activate the nerve cells and relay a signal to the brain. This provides these animals with a whole extra sense, the scope of uses for which are incredible:
*Bees, plus the ever perplexing echidna and duck-billed platypus are an exception to this
Every movement and thought made by a living thing is achieved via electrical signals. This means sharks can find prey in dark and murky water or even when they’re buried in the sand. Sharks often roll their eyes back into their head to protect them just before they charge their prey, so evolving concentrated clusters of these pores around their snout has meant that they can actually ‘see’ their prey with their mouth right up until the moment they bite it. Unpleasant, but awesome.
Water itself is a dipole molecule, meaning that each molecule has a tiny electrical field. The Ampullae of Lorenzini can feel these currents and the sense the changes in them by caused by different temperature and ocean currents. This provides electrosensitive aquatic animals with keen navigation abilities. It has also been suggested they can detect the earth’s magnetic field, like an inbuilt compass.
Electronic communication is very limited in the animal world but not impossible*. Electricity has similar physical properties to sound: one can modulate its amplitude and frequency or turn it on/off. If we ever meet any telepathic species I would put good money on them using electrocommunication.
*See: the honey bee waggle dance, jamming avoidance response, animals that use twitter
Generating electric fields require some additional organs, best known in electric eels. I’m no electro-bioengineer, but I’m reasonably sure that kitting yourself out with enough of these organs and a fancy hat would have sweet results:
Insects, our would-be-overlords (if they could really be bothered) boast the fastest accelerators in the animal kingdom including champions such as grasshoppers and fleas, which are able to propel themselves hundreds of times their own body length at incredible velocities.
A critical factor in propelling oneself a great distance is precise synchronisation of the propulsive limbs: if you were to extend one leg even slightly after the other you spin out of control and ruin your jump. Juvenile (nymph) forms of planthopper species can take off in under 2ms with a velocity of nearly 4 metres per second. The action potentials that normally control muscle movement are simply not quick enough to synchronise a movement this fast, so instead the nymphs use natural gears. Interlocking teeth along the back legs of the nymph mean that both legs synchronise completely and allow these insects to jump with such force that, scaled up, would be ten times enough to kill a human. While any improvement to my co-ordination is an undoubted boon to everyone around me, nature will probably need to produce some good repulsor technology before I can splice super-jumping onto myself.
M Burrows, G Sutton, Interacting Gears Synchronize Propulsive Leg Movements in a Jumping Insect, Science Sept 2013 V 341 pp 1254-1256
Sand, A. “The function of the ampullae of Lorenzini, with some observations on the effect of temperature on sensory rhythms.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 125.841 (1938): 524-553.
Samie, Faramarz. “Ampullae of Lorenzini.”
Mooney, T. Aran, et al. “Potential for sound sensitivity in cephalopods.” The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. Springer New York, 2012. 125-128.
Mooney, T. Aran, et al. “Sound detection by the longfin squid (Loligo pealeii) studied with auditory evoked potentials: sensitivity to low-frequency particle motion and not pressure.” The Journal of experimental biology 213.21 (2010): 3748-3759.