Home » Neuroscience, News » Surprise, surprise, worm’s nervous system “much more complex than thought”

Surprise, surprise, worm’s nervous system “much more complex than thought”

From “How the Worm Knows Where Its Nose Is” (ScienceDaily, May 16, 2012), we learn:

For decades, scientists have studied Caenorhabditis elegans — tiny, transparent worms — for clues about how neurons develop and function. A new Harvard study suggests that the nervous system of the worm is much more complex than previously thought, allowing it to monitor its own motion. …

“The simplest behaviors to understand were the first ones that were studied in C. elegans: something painful happens and it backs up,” said Hendricks, a research associate and co-author of the paper. “It looked like there was a very clear A-B-C order to its behavior, but when we began to look at these motor outputs, we found that these signals have feedback loops in the system.”

Said Zhang: “What we found is that, in some neurons, the synapses are highly organized at the sub-cellular level, and that organization is associated with local neural activity. In C. elegans, most neurons have one or two unbranched processes which have different synapses located one next to the other. How can these synapses maintain any functional specificity? There almost has to be local activity. But such compartmentalized independent activity in one single neurite was never demonstrated in the worm neurons before.

“Why is that important? C. elegans has only 302 neurons,” she continued. “Before, people simply thought each neuron was one functional module, so all the brain’s computations depended on those modules. What we found is that there are, potentially, many more functional units. That hugely enlarges the computational capability of this relatively simple neural system.”

File under: Another complex system that just sorta randomly happened.

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4 Responses to Surprise, surprise, worm’s nervous system “much more complex than thought”

  1. I think that God must not have given the poor worms that I often see baking on the sidewalk, driveway, and garage floor much of a nervous system….

  2. “much more complex than previously thought”

    This is the pattern of scientific discovery. The discovery is great and the scientists are to be congratulated, but the
    unspoken conclusion “Isn’t evolution amazing?!” seems a bit unsupported by the evidence!

  3. “What we found is that, in some neurons, the synapses are highly organized at the sub-cellular level, and that organization is associated with local neural activity.”

    “Synapses are correlated with communication between neurons.”

    Publish or Periah.

  4. Once I had a pheasant chick that wasn’t eating, so I tried to feed it a worm. What was strange was that the worm had been dangling from my finger but the second it came in contact with the beak, it wrapped itself around my finger, as if it was terrified.
    I really doubt this reaction was due to experience- it was most likely instinct- which to me means it was designed.

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