In a bid to better understand how the predator-prey relationship works in microorganisms, researchers from Norway came up with the idea of developing a real-life game of Pac-Man, which features tiny but living hunters and prey.
The researchers made a Pac-Man map, a three-dimensional labyrinth with tiny channels that are filled with nutritious liquid and features different microorganisms. The unicellular species called euglena act as Pac-Man, and the larger multicellular species called rotifers act as the carnivorous ghosts.
Unlike the video game, however, the real-life Pac-man game does not feature power-up pills. It is just a never-ending hunt by the rotifers for the single-celled protozoa, as researchers conducted the study to know how euglena responds when it is in a life-and-death situation when it is being chased by rotifers in a small area measuring less than 1 millimeter in diameter.
Microorganisms may be small, but they are abundant and among the oldest life forms that thrived on the planet. Scientists study them to help shed light on the world around us. Studying these tiny creatures offers knowledge and solutions that have a range of applications in healthcare, environment and other industries.
Knowing more about these organisms, for instance, allows researchers to better understand how deadly viruses such as the Ebola, which killed thousands in West Africa, spread so fast. Studying these tiny creatures also helps scientists come up with better fermentation methods that can lead to the creation of safer food products.
Microorganisms are often studied in a 2D petri dish, but the Pac-Man maze offers a 3D environment that allows these tiny organisms to interact more naturally. The canals in the maze resemble the structures that these microorganisms are used to navigating in the wild.
Study researcher Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen of the Institute of Micro and Nano System Technology and colleagues said that bridging the Pac-Man project with gaming allows them to relay the findings of the study in a manner more easily understood by people.
The research team brought in film director Adam Bartley lyslagt to create the map and film the gameplay so the public can also see the project. lyslagt captured the little creatures darting across the map using micro scenography.
Pac-man is an arcade game that was first launched in Japan in May 1980 and became immensely popular from the time it was released. The game is so popular it is considered an icon of the 1980s popular culture.