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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