The “Bird Beats” project involves A level biology students from The Archbishop’s School in Canterbury working in conjunction with the University of Kent Bioscience department.
The hearts of the ostrich and hummingbird share similar physiological features yet the ostrich heart rate is 90 bpm whilst the humming bird has a rate of 1260 bpm. This project sets out to investigate how differences in the structure of cardiac myosin could account for the difference in heart rates of large and small birds. Studies into mammals suggest that heart rate is significantly determined by the structure of the motor protein myosin which forms the club like structures involved in binding with the protein actin to produce the contraction of the cardiac muscle.
Students have been learning the key techniques involved in extraction of the muscle protein and examining muscle fibres in more detail. They have been researching how to reliably measure bird heart rates, sourcing bird heart muscle tissue and the mechanisms involved in cardiac muscle contraction. Later work will involve measuring the contraction velocity of the extracted myosin using fluorescence microscopy. The myosin sample is flooded with actin labelled with a fluorescent dye and the movement of the actin across the surface of the myosin can be visualised. We hope that future research will enable students to identify the genetic differences that might account for the variation.