Perhaps the biggest challenge in neuroscience is figuring out exactly how all the billions of nerve cells in the human brain work together to produce complex behaviours such as walking, talking, thinking and everything else. To keep things simple, researchers have turned to tiny nematode worms, known as C. elegans, which only have around 300 nerve cells in their tiny, transparent heads – a much more manageable number to cope with. However, worms present their own unique research challenges. For a start, they don’t like to stay still. Using high-powered microscopes combined with sophisticated motion tracking and image analysis software, scientists have finally managed to track individual nerve cells in living, wriggling worms and monitor their activity – shown as the coloured dots in this image of a worm brain. This technique should reveal how different patterns of nerve cell activity spark certain behaviours, such as feeding, wriggling, sleeping or even mating.
Written by Kat Arney
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