Researchers at the University College of Southeast Norway are cruel people who like to play with the lives of lesser organisms. They're also pretty cool scientists who know how to have fun while researching microorganisms' hunting habits. The evidence for both these cases? A tiny game of Pac-Man set up by the scientists featuring real microscopic hunters and prey.
the pac-man maze more accurately reflects real-life hunting conditions
If your Norwegian's any good, you can watch the researchers explain their set-up in the video above, but here's what we've learned courtesy of a blog post and Google Translate. The Pac-Man maze is a 3D labyrinth made up of tiny channels filled with "nutritious liquid." Swimming in these passageways are both single-celled euglena and ciliates (taking the role of Pac-Man) and larger, multicellular rotifers (the carnivorous ghosts). There are no power-up pills here though — just a never-ending hunt to the death for the unicellular protozoa.
The researchers built and filmed the maze with the help of filmmaker Adam Bartley, who supplied the unedited footage above. Reconstructing the classic '80s game with microorganisms was intended to raise awareness of their research, they say, but also has a practical benefit. The Pac-Man maze has much more in common with the environments in which such organisms usually hunt than a petri dish, allowing for the observation of more life-like behaviors. Also, again, these are less human beings than cruel gods, intent on watching the small suffer in the misguided name of Progress.