You’d assume that the tried-and-true Petri dish or microscope slide is the best way to study microorganisms in their natural habitat. And while it’s true that we’ve learned much from these 2-dimensional worlds, it isn’t. The third dimension, depth, is always missing. Not being able to wiggle and swim like they would in the wild, these organisms are probably just itching to tell us more.
In the video above, the scientists describe their nano-scale Pac-Man courses, each less than one millimeter in diameter — a third the length of a sesame seed. The nutrient-filled neon mazes were populated by single-celled euglena and ciliates, which were the Pac-Mans (yes, that’s how you pluralize it). Multicellular rotifers were the ghosts.
Though simply fun to watch, the point of the maze was to make laboratory experiments more like what the organisms encounter in nature. In a gooey universe of moss, for example, ciliates and rotifers must find their way around natural canals and hallways laden with predators and prey. If the next generation of Petri dishes was 3D instead of 2D, the researchers hope, we will start recording better data.
“We have had the tremendous fun along the way,” explained Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen in a press release. “And we do this partly because we want to raise awareness of the field.” Mission accomplished. Wompa wompa wompa.