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Tytell, Eric Whitman Center Scientist, Whitman Center

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We study the biomechanics and neural control of swimming in fishes. In any animal, locomotion requires a complex set of nested feedback loops. For example, the brain activates a neural circuit called a central pattern generator (CPG) that produces the basic pattern of muscle activity for swimming in fish, for flying in insects, and for walking in humans. The CPG activates muscles that produce force to bend the body, which interacts with the fluid around it. But the fluid also produces forces back on the body, and the body movement affects how much force the muscle can produce. The CPG then responds to sensory inputs, changing the pattern of muscle activity to respond to perturbations, such as turbulence in the water for fishes, or uneven ground for walking animals. The brain receives further sensory inputs from senses such as vision, the vestibular system, and the lateral line, an extra sense that fish have to detect water moving around, which then allow it to modulate the CPG in more complex ways. Work in the laboratory focuses on the interaction of all these different components, using engineering techniques to study water moving around fish, as well as biomechanical and neurophysiological techniques to examine sensory systems and neural control systems.

selected publications