Large-amplitude, short-wave peristalsis and its implications for transport

Lindsay Waldrop, Laura Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Valveless, tubular pumps are widespread in the animal kingdom, but the mechanism by which these pumps generate fluid flow is often in dispute. Where the pumping mechanism of many organs was once described as peristalsis, other mechanisms, such as dynamic suction pumping, have been suggested as possible alternative mechanisms. Peristalsis is often evaluated using criteria established in a technical definition for mechanical pumps, but this definition is based on a small-amplitude, long-wave approximation which biological pumps often violate. In this study, we use a direct numerical simulation of large-amplitude, short-wave peristalsis to investigate the relationships between fluid flow, compression frequency, compression wave speed, and tube occlusion. We also explore how the flows produced differ from the criteria outlined in the technical definition of peristalsis. We find that many of the technical criteria are violated by our model: Fluid flow speeds produced by peristalsis are greater than the speeds of the compression wave; fluid flow is pulsatile; and flow speed have a nonlinear relationship with compression frequency when compression wave speed is held constant. We suggest that the technical definition is inappropriate for evaluating peristalsis as a pumping mechanism for biological pumps because they too frequently violate the assumptions inherent in these criteria. Instead, we recommend that a simpler, more inclusive definition be used for assessing peristalsis as a pumping mechanism based on the presence of non-stationary compression sites that propagate unidirectionally along a tube without the need for a structurally fixed flow direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)629-642
Number of pages14
JournalBiomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Embryonic heart
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Peristalsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Mechanical Engineering


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