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Bioinspiration 2018 Expedition – Log 1

Bioinspiration 2018 Expedition – Log 1

What are we going to study in the ocean twilight zone?

The Bioinspiration Lab and collaborators will be conducting ROV dives, DeepPIV measurements, trawls, animal collections, laboratory measurements of animal biomechanics, and measurements of optical properties of various tissues and materials to answer one question: What secrets do animals in the ocean twilight zone possess that, when revealed, could be used for bioinspired engineering design?

One particular group of organisms we hope to study are larvaceans. Monterey Bay is home to giant larvaceans, and you can learn more about them in the YouTube video below. Larvaceans build and live inside complex structures made out of mucus, and we refer to them as houses. Yes, these houses are made out of mucus! The mucus house is used by the larvacean to filter and concentrate food from the water around them. Each larvacean species has a different mucus house structure and is built by cells on the animal’s head that secrete mucus.

How do larvaceans build their houses? How often do they do this? How is the structure of mucus houses linked to function?

Recent findings have shown that larvacean mucus houses are self-cleaning filters and that giant larvaceans in Monterey Bay can collectively filter 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools in an hour! Could these mucus houses inspire filtration technologies that can filter the oceans of contaminants like microplastics? We hope to find out using a suite of tools and instruments on the ROVs and in the ship-based laboratory during the research expedition.