Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Worms Do Calculus to Find Meals Or Avoid Unpleasantness

04.07.2008
Thanks to salt and hot chili peppers, researchers have found a calculus-computing center that tells a roundworm to go forward toward dinner or turn to broaden the search. It's a computational mechanism, they say, that is similar to what drives hungry college students to a pizza.

These behavior-driving calculations, according to a paper published in the July 3 issue of the journal Nature, are done "in a tiny, specialized computer inside a primitive roundworm," says principal investigator Shawn Lockery, a University of Oregon biologist and member of the UO Institute of Neuroscience.

In their paper, the researchers documented how two related, closely located chemosensory neurons, acting in tandem, regulate behavior. The left neuron controls an on switch, while the opposing right one an off switch. These sister neurons are situated much like the two nostrils or two eyes of mammals. Together these neurons are known as ASE for antagonistic sensory cues.

It's possible, Lockery said, that the discovery someday could help research aimed at treating at least some of the 200,000 people in the United States who annually seek medical treatment, according to records of the National Institutes of Health, for problems involving taste and smell.

... more about:
»Lockery »Neuroscience »nostril »pepper »uoregon

"This computer does some nice calculus, differentiating the rate of change of the strength of various tastes," Lockery said. "The worm uses this information to find food and to avoid poisons."

Lockery and colleagues predicted the existence of a derivative-crunching mechanism in the Journal of Neuroscience in 1999 based on findings that nematodes change directions based on taste and smell.

"In effect, they have two nostrils or two tongues but they are so close together that it is really like having one nostril or one tongue, and yet they find their way around quite effectively," Lockery said. "We knew from behavioral experiments that nematodes were doing the same thing that humans were doing, but only from the view of behavioral responses. We didn't know what was going on in the brain."

To get there, Lockery and colleagues used new imaging and molecular tools, along with some genetic engineering of their worms.

In one experiment, these chemosensory neurons carried a fluorescent protein that changed color based on neuronal activity. In another experiment, the neurons carried receptor proteins that recognize capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers.

Researchers found that when concentrations of salt were high, fluorescent proteins change from blue to yellow, showing that the left neuron (ASEL) was active as the worms continued forward movement. When salt levels were reduced, the right neuron (ASER) activated but generated a different behavior; the worms began a turning, or searching, motion.

"At this point, we wanted to know if these neurons really are controlling behavior. If ASEL really signals that things are getting better, then, if you could artificially activate ASEL the animals ought to go straight like a human going directly toward the pizza," Lockery said. "Conversely, if you activate the ASER the animals ought to turn to find their goal."

Such was the case, according to the capsaicin-receptor experiment. When the pepper ingredient was spread on turning worms with receptor proteins in the left neuron, they straightened their motion. Likewise, capsaicin applied to worms with the receptors in their right neurons caused them to change from turning motion to forward crawling.

"We have discovered a tiny, specialized computer inside a primitive round worm," Lockery said. "The computer calculates the rate of change of the strengths, or concentrations, of various tastes. The worm uses this information to find food and to avoid poisons."

Evidence for such on and off switching cells in other chemosensory networks of mammals, he added, "There are strong indications that a similar device exists in the human nervous system."

Five co-authors with Lockery on the Nature paper were: Hiroshi Suzuki and William R. Schafer, both of the University of California, San Diego; Tod R. Thiele and Serge Faumont, both of the UO Institute of Neuroscience; and Marina Ezcurra of the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. Suzuki and Schafer currently are with the Center for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Toronto.

The National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Human Frontier Science Program funded the research.

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is a world-class teaching and research institution and Oregon's flagship public university. The UO is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization made up of 62 of the leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. Membership in the AAU is by invitation only. The University of Oregon is one of only two AAU members in the Pacific Northwest.

Source: Shawn Lockery, professor of biology, College of Arts and Sciences, 541-346-4590, shawn@uoregon.edu

Links: Lockery faculty page: http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/ionmain/htdocs/faculty/lockery.html; UO biology department: http://biology.uoregon.edu/; UO Institute of Neuroscience: http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/; College of Arts and Sciences: http://cas.uoregon.edu/

Jim Barlow | newswise
Further information:
http://www.uoregon.edu

Further reports about: Lockery Neuroscience nostril pepper uoregon

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>