Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The neurobiological consequence of predating or grazing

Scientists from Tübingen compare neuronal network connections in two worm species

Researchers in the group of Ralf Sommer at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany, have for the first time been able to identify neuronal correlates of behaviour by comparing maps of synaptic connectivity, or “connectomes”, between two species with different behaviour.

They compared the pharyngeal nervous systems of two nematodes, the bacterial feeding Caenorhabditis elegans and the predator/omnivore Pristionchus pacificus and found large differences in how the neurons are “wired” together.

A long standing question in neurobiology is how certain behaviours are reflected in the pattern of connections between neurons. Answering this question requires a comparative approach, which has proved impossible even in a rather small organism like the nematode due to technical limitations in the preparation and analysis of the extremely large data sets. Dan Bumbarger and his colleagues have chosen the pharyngeal nervous systems of C. elegans and P. pacificus, which consist of only 20 neurons and show a high degree of independence from the body nervous system. These 20 neurons regulate the contraction of the pharynx muscles which are responsible for the uptake of food and its processing prior to digestion in the intestine.

Bumbarger has prepared ultra-thin sections of two Pristionchus worms and compared the number and location of synapses in the pharynx nervous system with the existing C. elegans data. Despite the small size of a nematode, data generation and analysis took over three years: Each of the 150 micrometre long pharynx regions yielded more than 3000 sections that had to be individually imaged and analysed under the electron microscope.

The first result of this extensive study came as a surprise: “By means of their shape and position each of the 20 neurons in Pristionchus pacificus could be correlated to an exact equivalent in Caenorhabditis elegans” explains the scientist. “This is all the more astonishing as the evolutionary distance between the two worm species is over 200 million years and they differ markedly in feeding behaviour and in the anatomy of their mouth parts.” While C. elegans feeds exclusively on bacteria, P. pacificus is able to switch its behaviour to prey on other worms if bacterial food gets scarce.

These differences are reflected in the number and position of neuronal synapses. While in C. elegans only 9 out of 20 nerve cells are motor neurons, which primarily activate muscle cells, the number is up to 19 in P. pacificus; only one neuron functions exclusively as an interneuron, establishing connections between nerve cells. “This hints at substantial differences in information flow”, states Ralf Sommer. Clearly, the regulation of movements is much more complex in P. pacificus – a finding which correlates perfectly with the predatory feeding behaviour of the worm.

By means of partly newly developed analytical methods the scientists in Tuebingen also compared the relevance of individual neurons and synapses for the entire network. It became obvious that two neurons in the anterior part of the P. pacificus pharynx have significantly gained in importance: They are the motor neurons regulating the muscle cells that control the movement of mouth parts, most prominently the movement of teeth which are not found in C. elegans. “The mouth parts are particularly active during a predatory attack, but not when feeding on bacteria” explains Sommer. In C. elegans, these two neurons function exclusively as interneurons. There are marked differences in the posterior part of the pharynx as well. This is where C. elegans has a specialized muscular “grinder” for crushing bacteria, their only food source. In P. Pacificus, which does not have a grinder, some of the muscle cells have lost synaptic connections with neurons.

“The patterns of synaptic connections perfectly mirror the fundamental differences in the feeding behaviours of P. pacificus and C. elegans”, Ralf Sommer concludes. A clear-cut result like that was not what he had necessarily expected. Previous studies in much simpler neural circuits - as in the marine snail Aplysia – had indicated that changes in behaviour do not have to coincide with changes in number and location of synapses. Differences in physiological properties of neurons or in their modulation by neurotransmitters can be sufficient to effect behavioural changes.

Original Publication:
Daniel J. Bumbarger, Metta Riebesell, Christian Rödelsperger, Ralf J. Sommer. System-Wide Rewiring Underlies Behavioral Differences in Predatory and Bacterial Feeding Nematodes. Cell (2013), 17 January 2013; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.12.013

Ralf J. Sommer
Phone: +49 7071 601- 371
E-mail: ralf.sommer(at)

Dan Bumbarger
Phone: +49 7071 601- 440
E-mail: daniel.bumbarger(at)

Janna Eberhardt | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Supercoiled DNA is far more dynamic than the 'Watson-Crick' double helix
13.10.2015 | University of Leeds

nachricht New Oregon approach for 'nanohoops' could energize future devices
13.10.2015 | University of Oregon

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Secure data transfer thanks to a single photon

Physicists of TU Berlin and mathematicians of MATHEON are so successful that even the prestigious journal “Nature Communications” reported on their project.

Security in data transfer is an important issue, and not only since the NSA scandal. Sometimes, however, the need for speed conflicts to a certain degree with...

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Smart clothing, mini-eyes, and a virtual twin – Artificial Intelligence at ICT 2015

13.10.2015 | Trade Fair News

Listening to the Extragalactic Radio

13.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Penn study stops vision loss in late-stage canine X-linked retinitis pigmentosa

13.10.2015 | Health and Medicine

More VideoLinks >>>