Scientists create a microscopic living Pac-Man maze

Posted on July 6, 2016

Scientists from the University College of Southeast Norway have created a 1mm Pac-Man maze to examine the interaction of microscopic organisms in varied environments.

In this “game”, the players are:

  • Ciliates – a type of single-celled protozoa that possess cilia (hair-like structures) that cover their surface enabling them to move
  • Euglena – a type of single-celled flagellate that possess a single whip-like “tail” for movement
  • Rotifers – a type of multi-celled microscopic aquatic animal that can either swim or inchworm if they choose to move

I am guessing then that a Rotifer is Pac-Man, and the rest are ghosts (I like to think of the Euglena as Clyde).

Now while the researchers acknowledge they had a lot of fun creating this maze inspired by the hit game of the 80s, there is actual science behind this.  Most traditional methods to grow these types of organisms involve a quite simple petri dish filled with some form of nutritious liquid.  In nature however, these guys can live in quite complex environments (e.g. moss and peat) that they need to negotiate, much like a maze.  So this kind of approach is better designed to emulate real life environments.

Yes I know, I just referred to a Pac-Man maze as a real life environment.

Scientists are also able to establish zones within the maze that are more advantageous to live in, and through digital tracking see whether these single and multi-celled organisms change their behaviours when repeatedly exposed to the same environmental conditions.  For instance, Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen noted that the Rotifers were reluctant to move for the first few days (until finding a Power Pellet, I imagine).

This research project also had another aim: Presenting data in a way that more people can appreciate and understand.  I think they are onto a winner there.

I wonder though…. when they will release Ms Pac-Man?

Check out the Pac-Man microscopic realness here: