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Extreme flow simulations reveal skeletal adaptations of deep-sea sponges
Nature  (IF49.962),  Pub Date : 2021-07-21, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03658-1
Giacomo Falcucci, Giorgio Amati, Pierluigi Fanelli, Vesselin K. Krastev, Giovanni Polverino, Maurizio Porfiri, Sauro Succi

Since its discovery1,2, the deep-sea glass sponge Euplectella aspergillum has attracted interest in its mechanical properties and beauty. Its skeletal system is composed of amorphous hydrated silica and is arranged in a highly regular and hierarchical cylindrical lattice that begets exceptional flexibility and resilience to damage3,4,5,6. Structural analyses dominate the literature, but hydrodynamic fields that surround and penetrate the sponge have remained largely unexplored. Here we address an unanswered question: whether, besides improving its mechanical properties, the skeletal motifs of E. aspergillum underlie the optimization of the flow physics within and beyond its body cavity. We use extreme flow simulations based on the ‘lattice Boltzmann’ method7, featuring over fifty billion grid points and spanning four spatial decades. These in silico experiments reproduce the hydrodynamic conditions on the deep-sea floor where E. aspergillum lives8,9,10. Our results indicate that the skeletal motifs reduce the overall hydrodynamic stress and support coherent internal recirculation patterns at low flow velocity. These patterns are arguably beneficial to the organism for selective filter feeding and sexual reproduction11,12. The present study reveals mechanisms of extraordinary adaptation to live in the abyss, paving the way towards further studies of this type at the intersection between fluid mechanics, organism biology and functional ecology.