Tools to aid motion studies including X-ray studies to show bone and joint movement. (via Nature)
Lately, however, scientists have been coming up with methods that are much more sophisticated without being too expensive. In July, developmental biologists Richard Mann and César Mendes at Columbia University in New York City and their colleagues published a paper on MouseWalker: a system they have built to automatically analyse changes in a mouse's gait (C. S. Mendes et al. BMC Biol. 13, 50; 2015). It involves an inexpensive set-up in which a mouse walks on a transparent surface over a high-speed camera that records the animal's footfalls. An analytical technology called machine vision allows the MouseWalker software to discern details such as the position of each step relative to the mouse's body.
Mendes says that this information can be used to detect when something goes wrong with gait, as can happen with the onset of neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease. MouseWalker was adapted from FlyWalker, a system that Mendes and his team helped to develop to let neuroscientists track how fruit flies walk after their neurons have been manipulated. Both MouseWalker and FlyWalker are open source: the authors hope that making the software available for free will help to attract users who can add parameters that they had not thought of.
The piece stresses researchers need to understand how their tools work and not fall for trusting black boxes. Too bad this attitude is rare elsewhere.