Get out your microscopic quarters, because Norwegian scientists from the University College of Southeast Norway have created a millimeter-wide game of Pac-Man. But beyond the '80s nostalgia trip, is there a scientific point to all this? Surprisingly, yes.
In a maze of nutritious liquid, the unicellular organisms euglena and ciliates play the roles of Pac-Man, while predatory multicellular species, rotifers, attempt to hunt them down like the "Ghosts". In this setup it is easier to study microorganisms as they are not jumbled up, as they would be in a petri dish, but instead it mimics the systems of canals the organisms would use in their natural habitats.
The researchers hope to apply digital tracking to the mini-organisms in the hopes of understanding their behavior better. The Pac-Man theme is just a bit of fun, helping to make the ideas the researchers are working on more accessible to the world outside the science bubble.
When the rotifers were first placed in the maze they noticed how they moved slowly and were “hesitant”. However, after a few days they increased their speeds and were gobbling up more and more of their single-celled prey. Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen, who worked on the project, thinks this might have something to do with chemical traces they leave to navigate, a bit like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.