Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nematode Brains, 1 of 2

It has a brain! The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans! Who knew? Actually, I’d never even thought about it before but it turns out that this worm has a brain with 302 neurons connected by approximately 8000 synapses. Austrian scientists were able to identify and record the activity of this worm’s brain with high remporal and spatial resolution. Hmmm.  Who knew? Supposedly it is the only creature for which a complete nervous system has been anatomically mapped. According to neurobiologist Tina Schrodel of, the neurons in the worm’s head were so densely packed that they could not distinguish them on the first images. Visualizing the neurons required tagging them with a fluorescent protein that lights up when it binds to calcium, signaling the nerve cells’ activity. With this new kind of microscopy, they were able to record the activity of 70% of the nerve cells in a worm’s head with high spatial and temporal resolution. This new technique, based on “sculpting” the three-dimensional distribution of light in the brain, may open up the way for experiments that were not possible before. One of the questions that will be addressed is how the brain processes sensory information to “plan” specific movements and then executes them.

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