The swimming behavior of a nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is investigated in a non-Newtonian shear thinning colloidal suspension. At the onset value ([curly or open phi] [similar] 8%), the suspension begins to exhibit shear thinning behavior, and the average swimming speed of worms jumps by approximately 12% more than that measured in a Newtonian solution exhibiting no shear dependent viscosity. In the shear thinning regime, we observe a gradual yet significant improvement in swimming efficiency with an increase in [curly or open phi] while the swimming speed remains nearly constant. We postulate that this enhanced swimming can be explained by the temporal change in the stroke form of the nematode that is uniquely observed in a shear thinning colloidal suspension: the nematode features a fast and large stroke in its head to overcome the temporally high drag imposed by the viscous medium, whose effective viscosity ([small eta]s) is shown to drop drastically, inversely proportional to the strength of its stroke. Our results suggest new insights into how nematodes efficiently maneuver through the complex fluid environment in their natural habitat.
Collagen is the main structural and load-bearing element of various connective tissues, where it forms the extracellular matrix that supports cells. It has long been known that collagenous tissues exhibit a highly nonlinear stress–strain relationship, although the origins of this nonlinearity remain unknown. Here, we show that the nonlinear stiffening of reconstituted type I collagen networks is controlled by the applied stress and that the network stiffness becomes surprisingly insensitive to network concentration. We demonstrate how a simple model for networks of elastic fibers can quantitatively account for the mechanics of reconstituted collagen networks. Our model points to the important role of normal stresses in determining the nonlinear shear elastic response, which can explain the approximate exponential relationship between stress and strain reported for collagenous tissues. This further suggests principles for the design of synthetic fiber networks with collagen-like properties, as well as a mechanism for the control of the mechanics of such networks.