Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

A universal scaling law of mammalian touch

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Science Advances  09 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eabb6912
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb6912

Abstract

For most mammals, touch is the first sense to develop. They must feel vibrations on the surface of their skin to enable them to respond to various stimuli in their environment, a process called vibrotaction. But how do mammals perceive these vibrations? Through mathematical modeling of the skin and touch receptors, we show that vibrotaction is dominated by “surface” Rayleigh waves traveling cooperatively through all layers of the skin and bone. Applying our model to experimental data, we identify a universal scaling law for the depth of touch receptors across multiple species, indicating an evolutionarily conserved constant in the sensation of vibrations.

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